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Introduction to My Book

Posted by W. Caleb McDaniel on July 10, 2012
The following text is a preprint version of the introduction to my book, The Problem of Democracy in the Age of Slavery: Garrisonian Abolitionists and Transatlantic Reform, which is now available on Amazon. The book is part of the Antislavery, Abolition, and the Atlantic World series, and this preprint appears here by agreement with LSU Press.

On April 14, 1865, hours before Abraham Lincoln sat down for the last time at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., the famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison sat down for the first time in Charleston, South Carolina. More than three decades before, Garrison had founded the Boston Liberator, a newspaper dedicated to universal, immediate slave emancipation. In 1833, he helped found the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS), a group devoted to the same goal. And by the time he went to Charleston, Garrison had served as the society’s president for over twenty years. Only in the last few, however, had emancipation changed from a despised, minority opinion to the official policy of federal armies in a cataclysmic civil war. With the war now ending and a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery awaiting ratification, Garrison had come to Fort Sumter to attend a flag-raising ceremony at the invitation of Lincoln’s administration.1

Undoubtedly Garrison’s emotions about the trip were difficult to express, and not only because he met recently emancipated slaves, one of whom pressed a ten-dollar bill into his hand. Garrison’s emotions were also stirred because he could now celebrate a country he had long regarded with deep disillusionment—even disgust. That disillusionment had two main causes. Four million of Garrison’s countrymen had been considered chattel property just three years before. But the abolitionists who had worked for three decades to abolish this evil met with nearly unremitting hostility, even in the “free states” of the North. Garrison once confessed to feeling more at home in Britain, which abolished slavery in its West Indian colonies only two years after he started his paper, and as recently as 1860, Garrison had objected to having the American flag wave over his head. Now, five years later, he literally helped pull the Star-Spangled Banner up the flagpole at Fort Sumter, accompanied by his friend of thirty-two years, British abolitionist George Thompson.2

Thompson was also at his side two years later when Garrison was toasted in London at a public breakfast held in his honor. It was Garrison’s fourth trip to Great Britain, and among the crowd were other British abolitionists who had supported Garrison for two decades or more. There was Richard Davis Webb, a Dublin printer. There was the lawyer William Shaen, longtime associate of William Henry Ashurst, who had once served as the London correspondent for the Liberator. These were two of the many reformers whom Garrison could recognize on sight. But dotting the crowd were also many internationally famous reformers, including John Bright, the meeting’s chairman; Victor Schoelcher, the French abolitionist; and John Stuart Mill, member of parliament for Westminster, author of On Liberty, and a leading figure for liberal thinkers on both sides of the Atlantic.3

Before 1867, Garrison and Mill had never met, and at first glance they had little in common. One was a lifelong printer and agitator, the other a statesman and philosopher. Garrison was the son of an alcoholic father and pious mother who never received much formal education; Mill, who was raised in the shadow of famous English philosophers like his father James Mill and the utilitarian Jeremy Bentham, learned to read classical Greek at the age of three. But Mill knew about Garrison. In the 1830s, he had read about American abolitionists in the essays of the English writer Harriet Martineau. Mill had also followed Garrison’s career as an advocate of women’s rights, and he shared Garrison’s abhorrence of chattel slavery. It was thus only with slight exaggeration that Mill wrote, in 1865, that he had always regarded Garrison’s band of abolitionists “as the élite of their country, not to say of their age.”4

Two years later in London, Mill gave a laudatory speech in honor of Garrison, only a few days after the two men had shared a private moment at the House of Commons. At a special meal with members of parliament, Garrison sat next to Mill. And according to the journal of Frederick W. Chesson, who knew both men, Mill told Garrison upon “shaking hands with him, that there was no man in the world he was better pleased to see.” He later invited Garrison to visit his vacation home in France.5

Garrison proved unable to accept Mill’s invitation. But Garrison had already crossed the English Channel earlier in the month, and he returned to Paris a few weeks later for an international antislavery conference. There he received another round of congratulations from European reformers like the Russian exile and anti-serfdom reformer Nicholas Tourgeneff and the French liberal Edouard Laboulaye, who reminded Garrison of his old friend Charles Follen, the German American exile. And between his two trips to the continent, Garrison also visited twice with Giuseppe Mazzini, the famous Italian revolutionary.6

Garrison and Mazzini had met twenty years before, and a few days after their final meeting the Italian sent Garrison a friendly note expressing his regard, accompanied by a photograph of himself. Garrison, in turn, later wrote a fond memoir of his “personal friendship” with Mazzini. The abolitionist acknowledged that his and Mazzini’s “fields of labor were widely apart, and our modes of action in some respects diverse.” But the differences between Mazzini and himself, Garrison claimed, were slighter than the similarities: “we cherished the same hostility to every form of tyranny, and had many experiences in common.”7

In that single, telling line, Garrison opened a revealing window onto the world he had known for fifty years: a world in which American abolitionists were connected to a transatlantic host of reformers as diverse as Thompson, Follen, Chesson, Mazzini, and Mill. This book places the story of Garrison and his movement within that wider world, and in so doing explains how and on what terms one of American history’s most radical critics came to stand beneath the flag.


The primary experience that Garrison, Mill, and Mazzini had in common was that of being antislavery in an age of slavery. But this book highlights another experience they shared: they defended democracy in an age of aristocracy, monarchy, and doubt about democracy’s future. These experiences differed, however, according to location, or what Garrison called each man’s “field of labor.”

All three reformers lived through an epochal transformation in world history: the abolition, in about one hundred years, of a transoceanic system of slavery that had thrived since the fifteenth century. Between the American and Haitian revolutions of the late eighteenth century and the Brazilian abolition of 1888, millions of African-descended people held as slaves in the Western hemisphere became free in the eyes of the law, while observers on both sides of the Atlantic came to regard slavery as antithetical to human progress. But during these dramatic changes, abolitionism remained more unpopular in America, and for longer, than in Europe.8

In Mill’s England, Parliament abolished British West Indian slavery in the 1830s, after which many Britons considered being antislavery synonymous with being British. In Europe itself, chattel slavery had largely disappeared as a legal institution by the time that New World African slavery began, so reformers like Mazzini never lived in the sort of slave societies that grew up across the Atlantic. In the post-revolutionary United States, by contrast, the federal government gave numerous protections to a powerful southern planter class, enabling slavery to expand rapidly in space and scale. American slavery proved so resilient that only civil war succeeded in destroying it.9

Even emancipations outside the antebellum United States often strengthened the hand of slavery’s defenders there. After the lengthy wars that ended slavery in Haiti, American slaveholders argued that merely discussing abolition would provoke apocalyptic bloodshed. British abolitionists and their few American allies countered by pointing to the British West Indies as a “mighty experiment” in emancipation that proved its safety and wisdom. But that strategy faltered in the face of racism, American Anglophobia, fears of insurrection or sectional strife, and discouraging economic growth in the post-emancipation Caribbean.10

The small minority of Americans who demanded immediate emancipation thus remained on the defensive throughout the first five decades of the nineteenth century. Even antislavery politicians like Lincoln suggested that American slavery could only end gradually and might well survive until the 1890s or beyond, while more radical abolitionists like the “Garrisonians”—as members of the AASS were known—faced threats, ostracism, and even physical violence. So it was no wonder that abolitionists looked to England as a safer haven where they could “breathe freely,” as Garrison put it. Temporary exile in Great Britain provided resources, refuge, and respite from an age of slavery whose end was not yet assured.11

The fate of democracy was also far from assured when Garrison’s career began. By 1855, more than half a century after French and American revolutionaries created self-governing republics, democratic governments were still few and feeble on both sides of the Atlantic, and the enemies of democracy—monarchs, aristocrats, and their conservative defenders—still clung tightly to the reins of power in almost every state. Clandestine networks of agitators like Mazzini tried to revive popular revolution in Europe after 1815, but most members of these groups were forced to live in exile, and in their new homes they still often aroused suspicion for their radical views. Even when French revolutionaries succeeded in overturning another monarch in 1830, the French electorate grew only to around 200,000 men—a number representing less than 1 percent of the whole population.12

Elsewhere, universal suffrage remained as controversial as the idea of immediate emancipation in the United States. In the United Kingdom, parliamentary reformers modified the composition of the electorate with the passage of the Reform Act of 1832. But by 1848, despite a massive decade-long Chartist movement calling for universal manhood suffrage, the number of Englishmen who could vote still hovered consistently at just under 20 percent of all adult males in England. Another broadening of the franchise would not occur until a second Reform Bill in 1867, whose merits Garrison heard being debated in the House of Commons before he lunched with Mill.13

In the United States, by contrast, universal white manhood suffrage was the law in most states by 1855, making the country an unusual experiment in political democracy. Just as many European and American writers turned to the British West Indies or Haiti to observe the effects of slave emancipation, scores of European travelogues, essays, and books about American democracy appeared in the decades when abolitionists were most active. Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, published in 1835 and 1840, was only the most famous. As Mill noted in the first of his two reviews of that book, the United States was “usually cited by the two great parties which divide Europe as an argument for or against democracy. Democrats have sought to prove by it that we ought to be democrats; aristocrats, that we should cleave to aristocracy, and withstand the democratic spirit.”14

Yet even in the antebellum United States, “the democratic spirit” remained contested and limited; all of its gains were hard-won. As historian Kyle Volk notes, after their own revolution Americans continued to debate “the boundaries to the democratic creed of majority rule, the rights of minorities and their proper place in policymaking, and whether ‘the people’ could ever be too involved in popular self-government,” as well as “whether public policy should always reflect public opinion.” Many Americans in the Whig Party still admired England’s small electorate and property qualifications for voting. And even the most ardent Jacksonian Democrats were only willing to follow the democratic tendency so far—to the point of political equality for adult white men.15

The idea of completely unlimited and equal suffrage was, in short, still a radical notion in the world abolitionists knew, even to some abolitionists. In 1843, for example, the political abolitionist James Birney nearly lost the presidential nomination of the Liberty Party after some indiscreet public remarks deploring that, “since the time of Mr. Jefferson, what is called democracy has been on the increase.” Birney was sure that “no people . . . can advance in moral refinement and true civilization under the univ[ersa]l Suffrage.” These were not the views of Garrisonians or most Liberty Party members, but outbursts like Birney’s showed that “democracy” was not incontrovertible even among American reformers. As historian Daniel Feller notes, for a nineteenth-century American democrat surveying the world at large, “there was reason, in the 1830s and even later, to believe that issues we now consider settled by then were in fact not settled.”16

In short, when Garrison launched his Liberator in 1831, democrats were largely on the defensive everywhere but in the United States, while abolitionists were on the defensive everywhere but in Great Britain. The map of places where a democrat could breathe freely was almost the photographic negative of those where abolitionists felt at ease. For American abolitionists, the embattled situation of democrats abroad raised fears that the tendency of the times could veer back toward tyranny and away from universal freedom, notwithstanding emancipation’s recent gains. Conversely, for those struggling for democracy in Europe, the persecution of abolitionists in the United States seemed to threaten their own success, since conservatives like Sir Robert Peel could point to recent mobs and anti-black riots in the United States as arguments against “experiments” in “popular Government.” As the French abolitionist Victor Schoelcher wrote in a Garrisonian publication, it was “an incalculable danger to the democratic idea, both now and hereafter, that the most democratic people existing should be holders of Slaves!”17

As Schoelcher realized, events in the nineteenth-century Atlantic World made it difficult for anyone to debate about slavery without also debating the legitimacy of different forms of government. But for abolitionists, the age of slavery exposed problems with both aristocracy and democracy, with rule by the few as well as rule by the many. On the one hand, abolitionists understood slavery as it existed in the American South as antithetical to democracy. Slavery denied the democratic premise of human equality. It disfranchised millions of black men and women who in some parts of the South outnumbered whites. And it empowered a small landed class of slaveholders, a “Slave Power” that exerted aristocratic control in Congress and legislated in the interests of the planter class.

On the other hand, the unpopularity of abolitionism and the persistence of slavery in the United States also revealed problems with democracy. Slavery survived partly thanks to the votes of congressmen and electors in northern states where slavery had ended after the revolution. At the state and municipal levels, laws that benefited slaveholding aristocrats, repressed northern abolitionists, and discriminated against free black communities were often ratified by electoral majorities or their representatives. And what anti-abolitionists could not accomplish by law they often achieved through violence or harassment that was tolerated by elected officials. Mobs like the one that disrupted a meeting of abolitionist women in Boston in 1835 and led Garrison through the streets by a rope seemed, as one Liberator headline put it, to provide “Another Argument for Sir Robert Peel” that majority rule in the United States had not been an unqualified good.18

These realities made abolitionists acutely aware of the problem of democracy: majorities could be unjust, immoral, selfish, and unconcerned about the oppression of others. Democratic procedures could even allow enfranchised groups to deny minorities the very same rights they already enjoyed. Surveying American politics on the eve of the civil war, the leading Garrisonian orator Wendell Phillips concluded that, “the weakness of a Democracy is that, unless guarded it merges in despotism.” Abolitionists like him, more than most Americans, appreciated how easily “a Democrat . . . will harden into a despot,” and how difficult it was for a minority to protect itself. But given this awareness, how could they answer the Peels of the world who doubted “the democratic principle”?19


The problem of justifying democracy despite its potential for despotism is not an easy one to solve; indeed, it continues to vex liberal political theorists even in the present. Often democracy is minimally defined as a procedure for fair political decision-making, yet even so-called procedural democrats acknowledge that the decisions of a majority may be wrong or even anti-democratic. As Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson put it, “numerical might does not make a decision morally right. Majorities have a moral right to govern only because minorities do not.” Liberal democracy needs protections for minority groups and individual rights that cannot be overruled by majorities, but debating procedures and deciding the limits of majority rule often exposes even deeper moral disagreements. Some theorists, including Gutmann and Thompson, argue that greater democratic participation and conversation can deal with these disagreements. But debate continues over how to justify and create ground rules for deliberation in a way consistent with procedural fairness and the principles of autonomy and equality on which democratic procedures are based.20

Similar debates on the legitimacy of democracy began during the age of slavery, before struggles to establish democratic procedures had even been settled beyond doubt. Indeed, abolitionists pondered similar questions together with many European contemporaries. When Phillips declared that democracy could merge with despotism, he paraphrased directly from the writings of Tocqueville, whose books on American democracy Phillips read closely and cited often. Mill also read Tocqueville’s volumes as soon as they appeared and spent two decades puzzling over how to shield democratization in England from the dangers of majoritarian tyranny.21

Like them, Garrisonians saw the problems with the democratic procedure of majority rule. But unlike many European writers on democracy, Garrisonians sought ways to correct democracy’s weaknesses without sacrificing its procedures—the representative institutions and voting rights which American democrats had fought hard to win. Many of Tocqueville’s admirers, including Mill, sometimes entertained the idea of placing limitations on suffrage to keep immoral or incompetent majorities from running amok, or favored a mixture of aristocracy and democracy. Garrisonians, on the other hand, typically grew up believing that the United States government provided a model for the world, and even their conversions to abolitionism did not entirely destroy that faith.

While in Scotland during his second transatlantic tour, for example, Garrison affirmed “the superiority of the American form of government over every other now existing in the world.” Frederick Douglass, the famous African American abolitionist who allied with Garrison in the early 1840s, likewise told British audiences that, “aside from slavery I regard America as a brilliant example to the world. Only wash from her escutcheon the bloody stain of slavery, and she will stand forth as a noble example for others to follow.” Similar statements can be found scattered throughout the Garrisonians’ writings. Wendell Phillips even declared that “I have full faith in democratic institutions” and identified the antislavery movement with “the Democratic principle.”22

These expressions of faith in democratic institutions and principles are noteworthy because Garrisonians are best known among historians of abolitionism for their own refusal to vote. For various reasons, including religious beliefs and interpretations of the constitution, members of the American Anti-Slavery Society decided after 1840 not to cast ballots, even for antislavery parties like the Liberty Party, founded in 1840, or the Free Soil Party, founded in 1848. Instead, Garrisonians relied exclusively on strategies intended to change public opinion, like holding meetings, publishing tracts, circulating petitions, and delivering speeches.

Abolitionists who did join the Liberty Party and the Free Soil Party often criticized these Garrisonian non-voters for an irresponsible lack of faith in democratic procedure, and many historians have leveled the same charge. In 1845, for example, Charles Sumner urged his friend Phillips to reconsider his refusal to vote, since abolitionists could not afford to lose any means of influence for the slave. “I think that you would speak in favor of an alteration of the Constitution, why not act in favor of it?” Sumner asked. “Take your place among citizens, & use all the weapons of a citizen in this just warfare.”23

Other critics of Garrisonian non-voting were less charitable and accused Garrison of caring more for his own moral purity than for abolition. They viewed Garrison’s style of agitation, which at one point included his public burning of the Constitution, as proof of a blind zeal that could not distinguish at all between what was good in American institutions and what was bad. As one critic lamented, members of Garrison’s society seemed to take “the ‘backing out’ principle” to extremes. “Their plan of navigating our poor misguided ship is to renounce helm, roles, compass, anchor, all, jump overboard and scream!”24

Historians have also often seen Garrisonians as self-righteous separatists who backed out instead of pitching in, adopting a “remarkably passive plan of action.” On this view, Garrison led his small band of followers into a “detour” or “moral dead end . . . a seemingly endless pursuit of self-purification that mistook the avoidance of politics for progress.” He and his disciples “privileged the purification of the individual soul, the conversion of individual hearts and minds against slavery and other worldly corruptions, over the practical result of abolition.” In short, to many historians, the classic image of Garrison is of an impractical, “radically antinomian” religious reformer obsessed with moral perfectionism, rather than a political activist. By refusing to vote at all, he and his allies allegedly showed a “contempt for ordinary politics” that came close to contempt for the democratic process itself.25

The Garrisonians’ own self-professed faith in democratic institutions has been further obscured by a long tradition in American democratic theory that began not long after emancipation. In the last years of the nineteenth century, many American intellectuals began to deprecate the sort of religious and moral absolutism that could lead someone to burn laws and spurn ballots. These thinkers saw the inflexibility of abolitionists like Garrison and Phillips as inimical to the pragmatism that reformers needed in a complex modern world, where uncertainty and pluralism were facts of life. Indeed, already by the 1860s, Garrison’s stock was falling among some of the young liberals who admired Mill, a philosopher who loved to synthesize seeming opposites into subtle wholes. The Unitarian Moncure Conway, who briefly joined Garrison’s movement in the 1850s, breezily remembered the editor as the leader of a religious sect who refused to work with other abolitionists—in contrast to Conway himself, who considered himself more open-minded and “knew good people on both sides.”26

Despite these common criticisms, however, Garrisonians unquestionably believed in democracy. Indeed, their focus on altering public opinion required as much faith in democratic procedures as the decisions of other abolitionists to vote, because Garrisonians assumed that majority rule allowed changes in public opinion to direct policy. Moreover, despite their voluntary decisions to refrain from voting, Garrison and his allies did not call for others to be deprived of their votes. By advocating equal political rights for women and black Americans, they demonstrated a more expansive view of suffrage than many antislavery voters. Garrisonians also echoed the hopes of Schoelcher and their European friends that the democratic idea would spread to other countries, and they hated American slavery partly because it robbed the United States of the role they assumed it should play as a global exemplar of democracy in action. When Garrison hoisted the flag at Fort Sumter at the end of the Civil War, he rejoiced that slavery had perished, but like Lincoln, he was also relieved that government of, by, and for the people had not.

Still, Garrisonians could not forget the weaknesses of democracy, its potential drift toward despotism; they knew firsthand what it meant to be a moral minority in an age when slavery and racism still had numbers on their side. Though remembered for their own inflexibility, they themselves knew the damage done by a bad idea when held by an unreflective and unbending majority. Throughout the antebellum period, therefore, Garrisonians often meditated not only on the problem of how to abolish slavery, but also on how to solve the problem of democracy that their ideas and experiences made plain. To make American democracy safe for the world, they had to do more than abolish American slavery; they had to articulate the habits of mind and social practices that would keep future democratic majorities from abusing their power in new ways.27

Garrisonian abolitionists wanted to make democracy work, and the key to that, they believed, was to couple majority rule and democratic procedures with constant agitation by at least some citizens outside of political institutions. But while this emphasis on agitation as essential to democracy was ultimately the thing that most endeared Garrisonians to Mill, it was not a self-evident truth to Americans at the time. By the time Garrison founded the Liberator, many conservatives and radicals alike viewed agitation by private clubs and extra-parliamentary movements as possible threats to the rule of law, which democratic citizens should control through more orderly forms of civic participation like jury duty and voting. Surveying the United States of the 1830s, Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story spoke for many American thinkers in deploring “Ultraism” and the “restless spirit of innovation and change—a fretful desire to provoke discussions of all sorts.” Many others criticized abolitionist agitation more explicitly as a threat to the harmony of the Union, which—as the world’s mighty experiment of democracy—had to be preserved even at the expense of discussing divisive ideas.28

In short, most antebellum Americans assumed that what made the United States a democracy were its political institutions and procedures, not the extent to which unpopular views could be expressed. But Garrisonian abolitionists preached that dissent was as necessary in a democracy as suffrage, representative institutions, or the rule of law. While certain of their own moral rectitude, they also articulated a defense of constant deliberation and free inquiry that later democratic thinkers might have recognized. Because other deeply held views had been proved wrong in the past, and because passive conformity favored political tyranny, Garrisonians believed, in Phillips’s words, that “unintermitted agitation” was essential to self-government—a controversial point in their day, but an important one in the history of American democratic thought.29


Wendell Phillips best summarized the Garrisonians’ vision of democracy in 1852, when he compared popular government to an “ever-restless ocean,” its waves constantly agitated and never still. Phillips returned to that image frequently, as will this book. But the ocean was more than a metaphor for abolitionists. Garrisonians also crossed the actual ocean frequently, revealing the transnational dimensions of American reform and the extent of transatlantic networks even in an era of nation-building and civil war.30

As historian C. A. Bayly and others have shown, the nineteenth century witnessed the birth of a nascent “international civil society” and the rise of transnational “networks of information and political advocacy which, though less obvious than the rising national and imperial state, [were] no less important.” Abolitionists experienced these realities in their everyday lives thanks to revolutions in transportation and communications technology that knit the Atlantic World together and astonished their contemporaries. By the end of Garrison’s life, one American abolitionist marveled to the Irish abolitionist Richard Davis Webb about the incredible “wilderness of waters” over which their letters always crossed. Yet “our regular, constant, almost daily intercourse by steam mail-vessels” had led these distant friends to “accept it as a matter of course!”31

Like the generations after them, abolitionists compared their experiences to the generations before them and concluded that it was a small world after all. Over the course of Garrison’s five eastward Atlantic voyages, the length of his trips in days trended steadily downward: 21, 25, 15, 10, 11. The first westward crossing Garrison ever made, in 1833, took 42 days by sail; his last return from Europe, in 1877, took 10 days by steam. Those contrasts struck abolitionists as proof that “the oceans that divided us, have become bridges to connect us,” as Frederick Douglass put it in 1848. The year before, Douglass had completed his own first Atlantic crossing, which introduced him to a vibrant community of reformers who had corresponded with American abolitionists for a decade or more.32

Transatlantic travel and correspondence also brought American abolitionists into close contact with a wide range of reform movements, including Irish Repeal, Corn Law Repeal, and Chartism. As Douglass pointed out after his first tour of Great Britain, many of the British reformers whom abolitionists knew identified with “the democratic element in British politics”; they sympathized with European exiles like “Louis Kossuth and Mazzini, and with the oppressed and enslaved, of every color and nation, the world over.” And through these friends abolitionists joined dense, overlapping networks that spanned the Atlantic Ocean.33

For a sense of how complex these networks could become, it is enough to consider one exchange between Mazzini and several of Garrison’s allies before the Civil War. In 1855, Mazzini wrote a note to the Bristol Unitarian and abolitionist George Armstrong, telling him that “we are moving along the same path,” and reporting that he had conveyed a note from Armstrong to Kossuth, the Hungarian revolutionary. Mazzini had received Armstrong’s note through Ashurst, a mutual friend of Garrison and Mazzini. Mazzini had then passed the note to Kossuth’s Italian secretary, whom he knew. Finally, in a postscript to Armstrong, Mazzini asked for the address of the Boston abolitionist Maria Weston Chapman, one of Garrison’s closest allies, who by then had moved to Paris and had met Mazzini in London. Armstrong, for his part, copied and sent the whole correspondence to Samuel May Jr., a Massachusetts Unitarian who had met Armstrong on an abolitionist tour in England.34

Close attention to these networks is important not just for mapping the nineteenth-century Atlantic World of reform, but also for understanding Garrisonians better. Like the later Progressive intellectuals studied by historian James Kloppenberg, the abolitionists’ ideas were “shaped within a transatlantic community of discourse rather than a parochial national frame of reference,” and many of their strategies and premises make sense only within the larger context of the Atlantic World. For example, Garrisonians partially modeled their strategy of agitating public opinion from outside Congress on successful extraparliamentary reform movements overseas, like Daniel O’Connell’s crusade for Catholic emancipation in Ireland or Richard Cobden’s struggle against the Corn Laws. They viewed setbacks for abolitionists in America as setbacks to democracy abroad partly because this is what their own correspondents affirmed. And finally, focusing on the extent of their transatlantic networks makes clearer why Garrisonians so often described themselves not only as democratic agitators, but also as citizens of the world.35

Garrison made his own cosmopolitan ideals clear in the famous motto that he published on every issue of the Liberator: “Our Country is the World—Our Countrymen are all Mankind.” But between 1831 and 1865, this motto and its variants also became a mantra for Garrison’s allies on both sides of the ocean. George Thompson cited it in a speech in Calcutta in 1843. Charles Follen called it “our watchword from the beginning.” Douglass claimed Garrison’s motto as his motto, too. And when Chapman moved to Paris she told Pease that she had gone partly to teach her daughters to “to become cosmopolitan . . . & to be able to say with an experimental feeling, ‘My Country is the World My Countrymen are all Mankind.’” In 1867, Garrison’s friend and ally Henry Clarke Wright, who spent five years in Europe in the 1840s, inscribed the title page of the forty-seventh volume of his personal diary with the words: “Henry C. Wright. Citizen of the World.”36

Becoming “cosmopolitan,” in short, mattered greatly to Garrison and his allies. When Garrison’s sons published a four-volume memorial biography of their father, they described “Our Country is the World” as his “favorite motto” and printed it on the title page of each book. The motto was printed on memorial cards distributed at Garrison’s funeral. And it is engraved on the southern side of the Garrison statue that sits near the Boston Public Library in Copley Square, where Garrison’s voluminous correspondence with European reformers was deposited after the Civil War.37

Like their insistence on agitation, the Garrisonians’ cosmopolitanism often made them unpopular in their day. Many Americans during and after the American Revolution had once believed that ideals like cosmopolitanism, world citizenship, and universal benevolence were good things; loving the world was not incompatible with loving their country. But the early nineteenth century brought with it hardening notions of national loyalty that put pressure on these ideals. As Tocqueville noticed when he toured the country in 1830s, Americans tended towards an “irritable patriotism” that bristled at any criticism from foreigners. “Our Country, Right or Wrong”—a popular antebellum slogan—captured the way that many Americans thought about patriotism.38

Garrisonians, however, believed both that democracy, like an ocean, should be ever-restless, and that crossing the ocean was good for democracy. They were wary about the dangers of too much national pride in a democracy like theirs, a concern that was both reinforced by their transatlantic experiences and echoed by transatlantic writers. Contemporary European liberals like Mazzini and Mill also criticized the sort of nationality that encouraged “senseless antipathy to foreigners,” and they too defended a vision of democracy in which unpopular or foreign ideas would not only be tolerated but would be seen as essential to the health of any nation. Placing Garrisonians alongside and within the personal networks of European reformers therefore makes clearer the origins and nature of their own ideas about democracy and patriotism, while also revealing intellectual and practical connections between their agitation at home and their activities abroad.39

In sum, by highlighting the Garrisonians’ participation in transatlantic debates about democracy, slavery, and nationalism, this book presents abolitionists both as transatlantic agitators and as transatlantic thinkers. Although abolitionists usually did not think of themselves primarily as intellectuals, they fit David Hollinger’s capacious definition of intellectuals as a community of people who exchange ideas, ask shared questions, and probe the “points of contact between minds.” Words mattered to Garrisonians not just as weapons, but also as carriers of ideas. And close readings of their speeches, letters, and pamphlets reveal abolitionists to be appropriate subjects for nineteenth-century intellectual history.40

To say Garrisonians were thinkers is not, however, to deny they were activists. On the contrary, this book also presents Garrisonians as goal-oriented activists who wanted to change politics from without. Although they did not vote or run for office, Garrisonians were extra-parliamentary activists who followed political events closely, thought strategically, and assumed their agitation would have political effects. To be sure, this depiction again differs from the typical view of Garrisonians as reformers who cared little about political outcomes. Historians usually do concede that Garrison “eventually adopt[ed] a strain of . . . pragmatism,” but this transformation is typically seen as a late development brought on by the antebellum sectional crisis or the Civil War, “when events overwhelmed his perfectionism.” Rather than seeing these events as total breaks from the past, however, this book shows that Garrisonians were always more interested in politics than is often assumed. Their tack was never one of total withdrawal from political engagement.41

Instead, like a later generation of transatlantic liberals studied by historian Leslie Butler, Garrison and other abolitionists “confronted what they considered national flaws with a strategy of dissent and reform rather than a willful retreat from public life.” Throughout their careers Garrisonians were politically engaged thinkers, or profoundly reflective activists, neither of which was an oxymoron in the world they knew. Indeed, whether it is ever appropriate for historians to observe a strict distinction between political “activists” and “intellectuals,” recent scholars have made clear that such a distinction often broke down in the nineteenth-century Atlantic World. In the European context, historians and political theorists have recently rediscovered “agitators” like Mazzini or Cobden as complex political thinkers, too. Mill has been redescribed as both a sophisticated thinker and an engaged politician. On the other side of the Atlantic, figures once thought of as disengaged intellectuals, like Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller, are now recognized as agitators.42

Garrisonians, likewise, were agitators informed by ideas, which were in turn informed by their agitation. Their experiences as a persecuted minority raised a set of shared intellectual questions that they tried to answer in ways that accounted for their experiences. Simultaneously, however, they never ceased to follow political events, to care deeply about their effectiveness, or to consider how well their extraparliamentary tactics were influencing politics. And despite their criticisms of national pride, they remained vitally concerned with the reputation of American democracy in the world at large, convinced that love for country and shame for country were not incompatible feelings.43


Part I of this book begins with Garrison as a teenager, following him through his conversion to abolitionist work and the origins of his transatlantic reform networks. These chapters proceed chronologically, but they emphasize the continuities and persistent ideas that linked the adolescent Garrison of 1818 to the transatlantic abolitionist of 1854. Among the most important of these continuities were Garrison’s belief in the special mission of the United States as a republican model to the world, and a related belief that “public opinion” had special power to change American institutions. Those beliefs coexisted with, rather than being supplanted by, the views for which Garrisonians are still better known.

Having discussed the experiences of Garrisonian abolitionists up to 1854, I turn in Part II to the intellectual problems that these experiences posed. These chapters are organized more synchronically. They emphasize the ways Garrisonian ideas resembled and were sometimes informed by transatlantic thinkers and activists like Tocqueville, Mazzini, Mill, O’Connell, Cobden, the Chartists, and the British allies of Garrisonian abolitionists introduced in Part I.

Part III then returns to the chronological narrative, picking up with the democratic revolutions that rocked Europe in 1848 and following Garrisonians into the Civil War, when many new tensions suddenly appeared between longtime allies like Garrison and Phillips. With this tripartite structure, which turns from events to ideas and back to events, I hope to convey something of how Garrisonians themselves turned back and forth between their experiences as transatlantic abolitionists and their ideas about democracy, “public opinion,” nations, cosmopolitanism, and the United States. Reasoning in light of their experiences, they also interpreted experiences in light of their ideas.

For the purposes of this book, “Garrisonians” were those members of the American Anti-Slavery Society who remained with the society after a famous split in its ranks in 1840. Yet even on that definition, Garrisonians were a diverse lot. They resist generalization partly because they themselves resisted strict criteria for membership in the AASS. After 1844, Garrisonians in the AASS were somewhat more united by the fact that they all identified with the motto “No Union with Slaveholders” and refused to vote. But they remained divided on a range of questions about violence, theology, capitalism, and much else. When drawing generalizations about Garrisonians, I have thus tried to note significant exceptions to the rule.

My primary focus, however, is on those Garrisonians who belonged to the organization early enough to experience the schism of 1840; who embraced its non-voting tactics during all or most of the 1840s and 1850s; and who then supported the Union war effort and participated in political campaigns after 1861. I have chosen this focus in order to show why postwar scenes like Garrison’s trips to Charleston and London were more explicable than they may appear, but my focus does mean paying less attention to Garrisonians who left the AASS long before 1861, or who joined long after 1840, or who were uncomfortable with wartime views like Garrison’s—a broad spectrum that includes figures like Parker Pillsbury, George Bradburn, Stephen Foster, Abby Kelley, John A. Collins, and many black abolitionists. On the other hand, I sometimes discuss reformers not typically treated as Garrisonians, like Frederick Douglass. Though he made the decision to support political candidates for election a decade earlier than Garrison and Phillips, he too remained a non-voting “disunionist” throughout the 1840s and thus went through the same transformation they did at a more accelerated rate.

Throughout the book, however, my two main characters are William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips—two figures who at first seem almost as different as Garrison and Mill. Phillips descended from one of the wealthiest families in Boston’s history and was educated at elite schools like Boston Latin and Harvard; Garrison was an ink-stained printer who was viewed as a vulgar fanatic by most Bostonians of Phillips’s rank. While it was Garrison who eventually met Mill and Mazzini, it was Phillips who read works by the likes of Mill and Tocqueville and synthesized their arguments with the outlook of Garrison’s band.

Despite their differences, each of these men built a life that would not be intelligible apart from the other. Phillips credited Garrison’s influence with making him “a better man” and marveled to his friend in 1846 “that our slightly different paths lead always to the same point.” After Garrison’s death, Phillips confessed that “no words can adequately tell the measureless debt I owe him, the moral and intellectual life he opened to me. I feel like the old Greek who, taught himself by Socrates, called his own scholars ‘the disciples of Socrates.’” While Garrison remained the president of the AASS for most of its career, Phillips became the society’s leading intellectual and orator—a man so closely identified with Garrison by outsiders that they were seen as inseparable. Together, they helped define the boundaries of Garrisonian abolitionism in the antebellum period, and despite disagreeing on some points, Garrison never seriously objected to any argument Phillips made until the civil war.44

I have chosen to tell a focused narrative of the Garrisonians’ movement not because it is the only story that could be told, but because it helps to demonstrate how the age of slavery raised questions for abolitionists about democracy and agitation, too, including questions that persisted for Americans, reformers, and democratic theorists well beyond emancipation. Even the famous rupture between Phillips and Garrison at the end of their careers, discussed in Part III, serves this larger goal. In 1863 and 1864, the lifelong friendship between Garrison and Phillips was riven by a sharp disagreement that divided the AASS itself into warring camps. Yet these wartime quarrels emerged from shared questions that long predated and long outlived the specific causes of dispute.

In particular, Phillips and Garrison had spent decades defending the agitation of public opinion both as a necessary, permanent feature of democracy and as an effective way to change politics in a democracy from the outside. Their alliance broke not on those two points, on which they always agreed, but on two unresolved questions that this agreement had obscured: When could and should politicians guide public opinion, instead of the other way around? And how could extraparliamentary agitators or politicians ever be sure what the state of public opinion was? Those questions remained open after their particular age of slavery had closed, and they persisted for American reformers who lived outside the period covered by this volume. But to later generations of reformers, Garrisonians also bequeathed a cosmopolitan patriotism, a persevering faith in democracy despite its flaws, and a belief in the importance of ever-restless agitation; how and why they did so is the subject of this book.


  1. Henry Mayer, All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998), 577–85.

  2. Garrison and Thompson told the story about the ten-dollar bill to Frederick W. Chesson. See the entry for June 10, 1867, in Frederick Chesson Diary, May 1867–April 1868, REAS, 11/15. For Garrison’s deprecating comment about the American flag, see “Independence Day: Anti-Slavery Celebration at Framingham,” Liberator, July 20, 1860.

  3. See Proceedings at the Public Breakfast Held in Honour of William Lloyd Garrison, of Boston, Massachusetts, in St. James’s Hall, London, on Saturday, June 29th, 1867 (London: William Tweedie, 1868); Richard J. M. Blackett, “‘And There Shall Be No More Sea’: William Lloyd Garrison and the Transatlantic Abolitionist Movement,” in William Lloyd Garrison at Two Hundred: History, Legacy, and Memory, ed. James Brewer Stewart (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2008), 36–37. On Mill’s importance to transatlantic liberals, see Leslie Butler, Critical Americans: Victorian Intellectuals and Transatlantic Liberal Reform (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 109–20. Previous studies of transatlantic abolitionism which have informed this work include David Turley, The Culture of English Antislavery, 1780–1860 (London: Routledge, 1991); Frank Thistlethwaite, The Anglo-American Connection in the Early Nineteenth Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1959); Betty Fladeland, Men and Brothers: Anglo-American Antislavery Cooperation (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1972); Howard Temperley, British Antislavery, 1833–1870 (London: Longman, 1972); Clare Taylor, ed., British and American Abolitionists: An Episode in Transatlantic Understanding (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1974); R. J. M. Blackett, Building an Antislavery Wall: Black Americans in the Atlantic Abolitionist Movement, 1830–1860 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983). A focus on the transatlantic dimensions of abolitionism informed and shaped the magisterial works of David Brion Davis, including The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1975), and Slavery and Human Progress (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984).

  4. John Stuart Mill to Moncure Daniel Conway, October 23, 1865, CWJSM 16:1106. See also Mill to Harriet Taylor, October 29, 1850, CWJSM 14:49–50; Mill to John Robertson, October 2, 1838, CWJSM 13:389; Mill to Harriet Taylor, March 31, 1849, CWJSM 14:21–23; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online ed., s.v. “Nichol, John Pringle (1804–1859).” One of Mill’s close friends was the astronomer John P. Nichol, who in 1853 married Elizabeth Pease, one of Garrison’s closest friends since the late 1830s.

  5. Entry for June 20 in Frederick Chesson Diary, May 1867–April 1868, REAS; WLG to HEG, August 12, 1867, LWLG 5:527. Mill also told John Elliot Cairnes that “it would have given you great pleasure had you been at the Garrison breakfast, and heard, especially Bright, and Garrison himself” (Mill to John Elliot Cairnes, June 30, 1867, CWJSM 16:1284). In 1868 Mill would also contribute to a National Testimonial fund for Garrison; see WLG to National Testimonial Committee, 12 March 1868, LWLG 6:42. The year after that Garrison would regret that Mill was not reelected. See WLG to Mary Estlin, January 1, 1869, LWLG 6:97; WLG to SMJr, July 23, 1869, LWLG 6:126.

  6. Special Report of the Anti-Slavery Conference, Held in Paris . . . on the Twenty-Sixth and Twenty-Seventh August, 1867 (London: British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, 1867); WLG to HEG, June 7, 1867, LWLG 5:499–501; entries for June 20 and June 23 in Frederick Chesson Diary, May 1867–April 1868, REAS; WLG, introduction to Joseph Mazzini: His Life, Writings, and Political Principles, ed. Emilie Ashurst Venturi (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1872), viii.

  7. Venturi, ed., Joseph Mazzini, xi, vii. See also WLG to William Lloyd Garrison, Jr., August 14, 1867, BPL, Ms.A.1.1.7.52.

  8. On these changes, see recent syntheses by Seymour Drescher, Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2009), esp. ix-x; David Brion Davis, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); Robin Blackburn, The American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation and Human Rights (London: Verso, 2011).

  9. On British national identity and antislavery after emancipation, see Richard Huzzey, Freedom Burning: Anti-Slavery and Empire in Victorian Britain (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, forthcoming).

  10. See Edward Bartlett Rugemer, The Problem of Emancipation: The Caribbean Roots of the American Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008); Seymour Drescher, The Mighty Experiment: Free Labor versus Slavery in British Emancipation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); Carl Paulus, “The Slaveholding Crisis: The Fear of Insurrection, the Wilmot Proviso, and the Southern Turn against American Exceptionalism,” Ph.D. diss., Rice University, 2012.

  11. WLG to Harriet Minot, March 19, 1833, LWLG 1:215. In November 1861, one of Lincoln’s potential timetables for “gradual, federally compensated emancipation” in Delaware would have allowed slavery there to exist until 1893. See George M. Fredrickson, Big Enough to Be Inconsistent: Abraham Lincoln Confronts Slavery and Race (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2008), 95-96.

  12. Mike Rapport, 1848: Year of Revolution (New York: Basic Books, 2008), 1–41. According to Rapport, after the French Revolution of 1830, “the electorate swelled to include only 170,000 of France’s richest men: this was a mere 0.5 per cent of the French population, a sixth of those who enjoyed the vote in Britain after 1832” (p. 3). Timothy Roberts puts the size of the French electorate under Louis Philippe at “the wealthiest 250,000 men out of a population of some 35 million, about twice as large as the U.S. population in 1840.” See Timothy Mason Roberts, Distant Revolutions: 1848 and the Challenge to American Exceptionalism (Charlottesville, Va.: University of Virginia Press, 2009), 12. On exiles, see Bernard Porter, The Refugee Question in Mid-Victorian Politics (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1979); Sabine Freitag, ed., Exiles from European Revolutions: Refugees in Mid-Victorian England (New York: Berghahn, 1999).

  13. K. Theodore Hoppen, The Mid-Victorian Generation, 1846–1886 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 237–39; James Vernon, Politics and the People: A Study in English Political Culture, c. 1815–1867 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

  14. John Stuart Mill, “De Tocqueville on Democracy in America [I],” CWJSM 18:50. See also David Paul Crook, American Democracy in English Politics 1815–1850 (Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1965).

  15. Kyle G. Volk, “The Perils of ‘Pure Democracy’: Minority Rights, Liquor Politics, and Popular Sovereignty in Antebellum America,” Journal of the Early Republic 29, no. 4 (Summer 2009): 641–79, qtd. on 644. On the contradictions inherent in “democracy” during these period, compare Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (New York: W. W. Norton, 2005); Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States (New York: Basic Books, 2000).

  16. Dwight L. Dumond, ed., Letters of James Gillespie Birney, 1831–1857 (2 vols., New York: D. Appleton-Century, 1938), vol. 2:733–34, 744–45, qtd. on 733; Daniel Feller, “Rediscovering Jacksonian America,” in Melvyn Stokes, ed., The State of U.S. History (New York: Berg, 2002), 82. See also Betty Fladeland, James Gillespie Birney: Slaveholder to Abolitionist (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1955), 215–26; Aileen S. Kraditor, Means and Ends in American Abolitionism: Garrison and His Critics on Strategy and Tactics, 1834–1850 (1969; rpt., Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1989), 149.

  17. “Sir Robert Peel at Tamworth,” Liberator, October 24, 1835; Victor Schoelcher, “American Slavery, and the London Exhibition,” Liberty Bell 12 (1852): 167.

  18. “Another Argument for Sir Robert Peel,” Liberator, October 24, 1835.

  19. Wendell Phillips, “Idols,” in SLL, 249; “The Republican Scholar of Necessity an Agitator,” Liberator, August 21, 1857. For another scholar who explores how abolitionists confronted this problem, with an emphasis on their debts to republican ideology, see Daniel J. McInerney, The Fortunate Heirs of Freedom: Abolition and Republican Thought (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994).

  20. Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson, Democracy and Disagreement (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996), 28. See also the essays in Seyla Benhabib, ed., Democracy and Difference: Contesting the Boundaries of the Political (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996); Nancy L. Rosenblum, ed., Liberalism and the Moral Life (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989).

  21. Other central concerns in contemporary democratic theory, like the problem of how to reconcile individualism with social feeling and obligation, also date to this period and are mentioned below, but they will occupy less of this book. For a good recent summary of one such strand of democratic theory that stretches back to Tocqueville, see Johann N. Neem, “Taking Modernity’s Wager: Tocqueville, Social Capital, and the American Civil War,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 41, no. 4 (Spring 2011), 591–618.

  22. WLG to Marcus Gunn, July 27, 1840, LWLG 2:672; John W. Blassingame, ed., The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979), vol. 1:212; Wendell Phillips, “A Metropolitan Police,” SLL, 522; Phillips, “Disunion,” in SLL, 348.

  23. Charles Sumner to Wendell Phillips, February 4, 1845, in The Selected Letters of Charles Sumner, ed. Beverly Wilson Palmer (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 199), vol. 1:144.

  24. Elizur Wright, Jr., to James G. Birney, 6 February 1844, in Dumond, ed., Letters of James Gillespie Birney 2:778.

  25. James Oakes, The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics (New York: W. W. Norton, 2007), 8, 9; Bruce Laurie, Beyond Garrison: Antislavery and Social Reform (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 5; Margot Minardi, Making Slavery History: Abolitionism and the Politics of Memory in Massachusetts (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 92; Peter C. Myers, Frederick Douglass: Race and the Rebirth of American Liberalism (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2008), 83; Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001), 15. I quote these authors not to criticize their excellent books, which are not primarily or only about Garrisonians anyway, but instead to show how resilient these views remain even in recent historiography. For a good introduction to earlier scholarship, see Betty L. Fladeland, “Revisionists vs. Abolitionists: The Historiographical Cold War of the 1930s and 1940s,” Journal of the Early Republic, 6 (Spring 1986): 1–21.

  26. Moncure Daniel Conway, Autobiography: Memories and Experiences (Boston: Houghton Mifflin and Co., 1904), vol. 1:185. On uncertainty and flexibility as key concepts for Progressive-era democratic thinkers, see Menand, The Metaphysical Club; James T. Kloppenberg, Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870–1920 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986); and the somewhat discredited but still insightful Morton G. White, Social Thought in America: The Revolt against Formalism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957). On Mill’s penchant for resolving contradictions between opposing philosophies, see Nicholas Capaldi, John Stuart Mill: A Biography (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

  27. The phrase “make democracy safe for the world” is adapted from George Wilson Pierson, Tocqueville in America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 167.

  28. On fears of agitation in the early republic, see Mark G. Schmeller, “Imagining Public Opinion in Antebellum America: Fear, Credit, Law, and Honor,” Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 2001, chap. 5, Joseph Story qtd. on 262. Also see Seth Cotlar’s discussion of the early national backlash against participatory democracy and radical agitation in Cotlar, Tom Paine’s America: The Rise and Fall of Transatlantic Radicalism in the Early Republic (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011).

  29. Wendell Phillips, “Public Opinion,” in SLL, 52.

  30. Phillips, “Public Opinion,” 54. For a sampling of other recent work on the mid-nineteenth-century Atlantic world of reform, see Roberts, Distant Revolutions; Angela F. Murphy, American Slavery, Irish Freedom: Abolition, Immigrant Citizenship, and the Transatlantic Movement for Irish Repeal (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2010); Amanda Bowie Moniz, “Saving the Lives of Strangers: Humane Societies and the Cosmopolitan Provision of Charitable Aid,” Journal of the Early Republic 29, no. 4 (2009): 607–40; Mischa Honeck, We Are the Revolutionists: German-Speaking Immigrants and American Abolitionists after 1848 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011); Kathryn Kish Sklar and James Brewer Stewart, eds., Women’s Rights and Transatlantic Antislavery in the Era of Emancipation (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2007); Bonnie S. Anderson, Joyous Greetings: The First International Women’s Movement, 1830–1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); Margaret H. McFadden, Golden Cables of Sympathy: The Transatlantic Sources of Nineteenth-Century Feminism (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1998); Carl J. Guarneri, The Utopian Alternative: Fourierism in Nineteenth-Century America (rpt., Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994). For a slightly later period, see Daniel T. Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998); Ian Tyrrell, Woman’s World/Woman’s Empire: The Women’s Christian Temperance Union in International Perspective, 1880–1930 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991); Leila J. Rupp, Worlds of Women: The Making of an International Women’s Movement (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997).

  31. C. A. Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World, 1780–1914 (Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell, 2004), 118; SMJr to RDW, March 26, 1871, BPL, Ms.B.1.6.11.9. On the transportation revolution in the United States during this same period, see Howe, What Hath God Wrought. For overarching surveys of the persistence of the Atlantic World into the nineteenth century, especially as a zone of cultural and economic exchange, see Donna Gabaccia, “A Long Atlantic in a Wider World,” Atlantic Studies 1, no. 1 (2004): 1–27; Aaron Spencer Fogleman, “The Transformation of the Atlantic World, 1776–1867,” Atlantic Studies 6, no. 1 (2009): 5–28; Jürgen Osterhammel and Niels P. Petersson, Globalization: A Short History (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005), 57–80; José C. Moya, “Modernization, Modernity, and the Trans/formation of the Atlantic World in the Nineteenth Century,” in The Atlantic in Global History, 1500–2000, ed. Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra and Erik R. Seeman (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson, 2007), 179–98; and Thistlethwaite’s still useful The Anglo-American Connection. See also the account of nineteenth-century transatlantic connections as one of interplay between the continued “flow” of connections and the “closure” of others in Charles Bright and Michael Geyer, “Where in the World Is America? The History of the United States in the Global Age,” in Thomas Bender, ed., Rethinking American History in a Global Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 76–77. For scholarship relating European politics and the Atlantic economy to early American politics and territorial expansion, see Thomas Bender, A Nation among Nations: America’s Place in World History (New York: Hill and Wang, 2006), 60–115; François Furstenberg, “The Significance of the Trans-Appalachian Frontier in Atlantic History,” American Historical Review 113 (June 2008): 647–77; John Craig Hammond, “Slavery, Settlement, and Empire: The Expansion and Growth of Slavery in the Interior of the North American Continent, 1770–1820,” Journal of the Early Republic 32, no. 2 (Summer 2012): 175–206; Rosemarie Zagarri, “The Significance of the ‘Global Turn’ for the Early American Republic,” Journal of the Early Republic 31, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 1–37; Matthew Rainbow Hale, “On their Tiptoes: Political Time and Newspapers during the Advent of the Radicalized French Revolution, circa 1792–1793,” Journal of the Early Republic 29 (Summer 2009): 191–218; Rachel Hope Cleves, The Reign of Terror in America: Visions of Violence from Anti-Jacobinism to Antislavery (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009). Also see Andre M. Fleche, The Revolution of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012); and the various works mentioned in two recent forums: “Interchange: Nationalism and Internationalism in the Era of the Civil War,” Journal of American History 98, no. 2 (2011): 455–89; “AHR Conversation: On Transnational History,” American Historical Review 111, no. 5 (December 2006).

  32. Philip S. Foner, ed., The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, vol. 1: Early Years, 1817–1849 (New York: International Publishers, 1950), 323. For the lengths of Garrison’s trips, each number represents the number of days for a one-way crossing, rounded up to the nearest whole day, between Boston and Garrison’s English port, which was sometimes Liverpool and sometimes London. I have compiled the figures from Wendell Phillips Garrison and Francis Jackson Garrison, William Lloyd Garrison, 1805–1879: The Story of His Life Told by His Children (4 vols.; New York: The Century Co., 1885–1889); and correspondence in LWLG. For more on abolitionists’ encounters with steam travel, see my “Saltwater Antislavery: American abolitionists on the Atlantic Ocean in the Age of Steam,” Atlantic Studies 8, no. 2 (2011): 141–63.

  33. Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom, ed. John David Smith (1855; New York: Penguin, 2003), 278.

  34. See George Armstrong to SMJr, August 14, 1855, and Joseph Mazzini to George Armstrong, in BAA, 416–17.

  35. Kloppenberg, Uncertain Victory, 10.

  36. George Thompson, Addresses; Delivered at Meetings of the Native Community of Calcutta: and on Other Occasions (Calcutta: Thacker and Co., 1843), 24; Charles Follen, “Speech before the Anti-Slavery Society,” in The Works of Charles Follen, with a Memoir of His Life, ed. Eliza Lee Follen (Boston: Hilliard, Gray, and Co., 1841), vol. 1:629–30; MWC to EPN, December 25, 1849, Ms.A.1.2.18.88, BPL; HCW-BPL, vol. 47 (1867).

  37. For “favorite motto,” see Garrison and Garrison, Garrison 1:xi. For the memorial cards, see McKim-Garrison Family Papers, New York Public Library, Box 3, MGF 31.

  38. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. Gerald Bevan (London: Penguin, 2003), 277. See also Cotlar, Tom Paine’s America.

  39. Mill qtd. in Maurizio Viroli, For Love of Country: An Essay on Patriotism and Nationalism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), front matter. See also Georgios Varouxakis, Mill on Nationality (London: Routledge, 2002).

  40. David Hollinger, “Historians and the Discourse of Intellectuals,” in In the American Province: Studies in the History and Historiography of Ideas (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), 130–51, quoted on 132.

  41. David W. Blight, “William Lloyd Garrison at Two Hundred: His Radicalism and His Legacy for Our Time,” in Stewart, ed., William Lloyd Garrison at Two Hundred, 7. Past historiography better recognized the Garrisonians’ political aims. See especially James Brewer Stewart, “The Aims and Impact of Garrisonian Abolitionism, 1840–1860,” Civil War History 15, no. 3 (1969): 197–209; Kraditor, Means and Ends; Bertram Wyatt-Brown, “William Lloyd Garrison and Antislavery Unity: A Reappraisal,” Civil War History 13, no. 1 (1967): 5–24. See also Mark Voss-Hubbard, “The Political Culture of Emancipation: Morality, Politics, and the State in Garrisonian Abolitionism, 1854–1863,” Journal of American Studies 29, no. 2 (1995): 159–84, which argues that, despite their “doctrinaire” and “antinomian” religious views, Garrisonians “were capable of responding to their circumstances in unpredictable ways,” though these unpredictable departures did not happen, according to Voss-Hubbard, until after 1854.

  42. Butler, Critical Americans, 12. See, for example, Anthony Howe and Simon Morgan, eds., Rethinking Nineteenth-Century Liberalism: Richard Cobden Bicentenary Essays (Aldershot, Hampshire, U.K.: Ashgate, 2006); C. A. Bayly and Eugenio F. Biagini, eds., Giuseppe Mazzini and the Globalisation of Democratic Nationalism, 1830–1920 (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2008); Sandra Harbert Petrulionis, To Set This World Right: The Antislavery Movement in Thoreau’s Concord (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2006); Charles Capper and Cristina Giorcelli, eds., Margaret Fuller: Transatlantic Crossings in a Revolutionary Age (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2007); Dean Grodzins, American Heretic: Theodore Parker and Transcendentalism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002); Nadia Urbinati and Alex Zakaras, eds., J. S. Mill’s Political Thought: A Bicentennial Reassessment (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Stefan Collini, Public Moralists: Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain, 1850–1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991); Butler, Critical Americans; Salvo Mastellone, Mazzini and Marx: Thoughts Upon Democracy in Europe (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003); Nadia Urbinati, Mill on Democracy: From the Athenian Polis to Representative Government (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).

  43. Christopher Leslie Brown has spotlighted the role that concerns about a nation’s reputation and “moral capital” played in British reform movements, and Dorothy Ross has argued that broader narratives of the rise of antislavery thought, which focus on the progressive unfolding of liberal or moral sentiment, have obscured the role that nationalism played as a foundation for antislavery critique, particularly in Abraham Lincoln’s thinking about emancipation. In this book I will also draw attention to the role that ideas about the “nation” played even in transatlantic Garrisonian abolitionism. See Christopher Leslie Brown, Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006); Dorothy Ross, “Lincoln and the Ethics of Emancipation: Universalism, Nationalism, Exceptionalism,” Journal of American History 96, no. 2 (September 2009).

  44. Qtd. in Irving H. Bartlett, Wendell Phillips: Brahmin Radical (Boston: Beacon Press, 1961), 105; “William Lloyd Garrison,” in SLL: Second Series, 466. Focusing on these two figures and their closest allies does require leaving to other scholars important questions about the Garrisonians’ constitutional theory, the regional diversity of their movement, the limits and radicalism of their explanations of human difference, and even their thinking about the philosophical problem of human bondage itself. Likewise, this book does not attempt to measure their effectiveness in changing public opinion or determine the extent to which Garrisonians contributed directly to the coming of the Civil War, though it does explain how Garrisonians perceived their contributions to the conflict and explores the intellectual sources of those perceptions. Some of the most exciting recent scholarship on the abolitionist movement has considered the question of how abolitionists affected the coming of the Civil War. See, for example, Rugemer, The Problem of Emancipation; Elizabeth R. Varon, Disunion! The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789–1859 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008); James Brewer Stewart, “Reconsidering Abolitionists in an Age of Fundamentalist Politics,” Journal of the Early Republic 26, no. 1 (2006), 1–24; Stanley Harrold, Subversives: Antislavery Community in Washington, D.C., 1828–1865 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003), 253–57. On Garrisonians’ contributions to racial theory, see Bruce Dain, A Hideous Monster of the Mind: American Race Theory in the Early Republic (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002). For good recent works on the regional diversity and rank-and-file members of the abolitionist movement, see Stacey M. Robertson, Hearts Beating for Liberty: Women Abolitionists in the Old Northwest (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010); Julie Roy Jeffrey, The Great Silent Army of Abolitionism: Ordinary Women in the Antislavery Movement (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998).