Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Abolitionist Readings: Walker, Garrison, Grimke & Whittier

--This day's reading is a selection of a range of abolitionist voices, reflecting the different identities and different strategies that went into antebellum abolition.

--Written at least in part in response to the work of Jefferson, David Walker's Appeal can be compared to Enlightenment protest texts, especially Paine's Common Sense. How does Walker use both reason and emotional calls to his readers to inspire abolition? Also, you could compare Walker to Equiano's abolitionism.

--Garrison makes an impassioned argument for abolition, invoking Jefferson's "Declaration." What are similarities and differences here between Garrison and Jefferson's text?

--Grimke offers a distinctively feminine reaction to the issue of slavery. How does she respond to the tradition of republican motherhood that we saw earlier in the term?

--Whittier uses poetry for his abolitionist critique. How does poetry work differently than the prose models read alongside this to forward abolitionism?


  1. Whittier's poetry is a much different critique of slavery than, say, Garrison's prose critique in that he appeals to the emotion of the reader more so than the prose selections.

    Given that poetry is usually a medium through which an appeal to emotion is a common goal, Whittier invokes scenes of hunted runaway slaves and the inhumanity of the practice. He also avoids attacking mere individuals, but the types of individuals who made up the anti-abolitionist movement, namely politicians and church figures. In the case of Whittier's the Hunter's of Men, poetry is used to exploit slavery for what it is, a heinous act that involves not one specific type of person ("The Priest with his cassock/ ... the politic Statesman"[Whittier 13-14]). The end is positive, however, when Whittier alludes to the turning of the tide in the abolitionist movement ("The politic statesman looks back with a sigh-/ there is doubt in his heart- there is fear in his eye" [Whitter 45-6]).

  2. To start with, Garrison's critique of slavery is similar to Jefferson's Declaration in that they are both addressed to the public, however Jefferson's more plain style of writing gets his point across much better. Garrison ends with a poem that rhymes, which is effective in stirring emotions as is Whittier's abolitionist poem. Grimke's feminist motive is an interesting one indeed. She suggests that the women's role is not confined to that existent in the Republican motherhood model, but that women can effect policy at home. I would say with the exception of the poetry, these abolitionist pieces all revolve around logical premises, much like enlightenment writers.

  3. Walker makes many well reasoned arguments in "Appeal." First he points out that Black people are the only race of people sold into slavery. Everyone else is considered a man and untouchable. He also points out that Africans never gave the Europeans a reason to dislike them. He also states that previous institutions of slavery granted full rights to freed slaves, while in the Americas, laws were passed making buying your freedom even more difficult, and when you were freed, you were still discriminated against.

    Like Thomas Paine, Walker acts like all he is using is reason, when, in reality, he is also using emotional arguments as well. By continually referring to African-Americans as brutes, he makes their plight seem more real to the reader. Also, Walker argues that Christianity has made their problems worse. Like Paine, he doesn't seem to be the biggest fan of organized religion.

  4. --Grimke offers a distinctively feminine reaction to the issue of slavery. How does she respond to the tradition of republican motherhood that we saw earlier in the term?

    She responds by saying that she knows she does not make the laws and she has no actual legislative power to do anything about the issue of slavery. However, she and many other woman who feel strongly about abolition CAN make an influence on those male figures in their lives who DO have legislative power and the ability to change the way things are going. She speaks of being educated on the subject so that when you do try to influence your significant other, you can be competent about the subject you are speaking on. Second, she returns to religion and prayer and to pray for those who don't see the right way out of slavery, and also for the slave who can not do anything for his own good. Third, speak about the subject. No matter who you are telling your opinions to, as long as they are educated, you very well may have an influence on your audience. Last, act on the subject. Nothing is ever going to change unless you put into motion the three things she discussed prior.

    I feel all of these actions are contrary to the idea of republican motherhood we learned about earlier in the semester. This text is asking the woman to act on their opinions and thoughts, instead of sitting at home and getting educated about the traditional woman's duties: cooking, cleaning, and child rearing.

  5. --Angelina E. Grimke targeted the white-Chritian women in her appeal, in an attempt to abolish slavery. Clearly, she responds to the republican motherhood in this writing in such ways.
    She is fully aware of the roles of the white Christian mother. For the republican-mother figure, religion is one of the most important aspects to everyday living. Grimke urged the women to pray, which was what she advised second, because knowledge of what is (was) being prayed for was essential.
    In the republican home, the family bond was seemingly strong, thus, if the woman could obtain knowledge of slavery being wrong and sinful, it'll be easier for her to persuade her husband (who is the dominant force) to work towards the abolishment of slavery.
    Being a woman writer, it seemed apropos for Grimke to try and reach out to the women. Trying to reach out to the men would have been a more difficult task for her, considering that she was a woman, a black woman to say the least.
    Lastly, she reminded them (the mothers, sisters, wives and daughters) that if they thought that they could do nothing about the slave system, then they were mistaken (Norton, 1693).

  6. Walker’s style struck me a being very similar to Paine. Some of it was reasoning and examples (like Walker using comparisons to Roman slavery), but they are probably most similar in the expressed passion. The language is rousing, and charged. Walker, like Paine seems to be in some sort of personal conversation with his reader that makes the argument seem energetic. At one point he says, “O my brethren! are we MEN?”

    Walker and Paine also seem similar in there use of a uniting enemy. Paine’s seems to be the illogical church, so terribly suppressing reason, Walker’s, of course, is the white Christian. Walker actually makes Paine seem a little ridiculous, since they both seem very very passionate, but Walker's complaint seems way more legitimate.

  7. "Pray also for that poor slave, that he may be kept patient and submissive under his hard lot, until God is pleased to open the door of freedom to him without violence or bloodshed" (1693-1694).

    "...never aggravate their faults,...remember their extreme ignorance, and consider them as your Heavenly Father does the less culpable on this account, even when they do wrong things. Discountenance all cruelty to them, all starvation, all corporal chastisement; these may brutalize and break their spirits, but will never bend them to willing, cheerful obedience. Do all you can, to induce their owners to clothe them well, and to allow them many little indulgences which would contribute to their comfort. And lastly, endeavour to inculcate submission on the part of the slaves, but whilst doing this be faithful in pleading the cause of the oppressed" (1694).

    I can only imagine what David Walker's reaction to Grimke's Appeal to the Christian Women of the South, but in my head it is not a happy one. Aside from her focus on women's issues, Grimke seems to be expressing nothing more revolutionary than another tale of "the white man's burden": her portrayal of African Americans is one of children that must be taken in hand by those in power to "teach them" and "improve" their minds, with the end goal appearing to be the attainment of African American's "willing, cheerful obedience" (1694). While Grimke recognizes that the blame for the deplorable condition of slaves belongs to those who have promoted the American institution of slavery, her tone is patronizing as she declares slaves to be "less culpable" and calls upon their "owners" to "allow" them basic necessities (1694). Her hopes that slaves be "kept patient and submissive" (emphasis mine) reveals an anxiety at the notion of slaves who are not "kept," but who instead release themselves from their chains. Instead, her audience should endeavor to "inculcate submission" in slaves until God or some nice white people decide to "allow" them their freedom (1694). Walker's assertion that no African American should "suppose that the refutations which have been written by our white friends are enough---they are whites---we are blacks" seems justified in Grimke's words (1688). She is removed, wrapped in her wealthy, white privilege, yet she presumes to know who and what an entire people are to the point that she can educate the world on how best to "improve" them.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. The first thing I noticed about Walker, Garrison, and Grimke's excerpts was that although Grimke is a woman, her text has a very orderly, methodic appeal while Garrison and Walker's were more emotional-based. Usually the woman is speaking in a non-orderly, more emotional manner, but this isn't the case with Grimke. She starts off with listing exactly seven things that are wrong with slavery, then provides four ways to "overthrow slavery".

    These four points are specifically written for mothers, wives, and daughters of slave holders. This idea relates to Republican Motherhood because she's saying, no, you can't really influence the laws directly, but here's what you can do. On page 1693 Grimke states: "I know you do not make the laws, but I also know that you are the wives and mothers, the sisters and daughters of who do; and if you really suppose you can do nothing to overthrow slavery, you are greatly mistaken." She goes on to state the four ways in which they can be influential which are "1. Read on the subject of slavery." "2. Pray over this subject." "3. Speak on this subject." and "4. Act on this subject." (1694-94). This directly relates to Republican Motherhood because it allows women to have an indirect influence on the people who can influence politics and legislation.

  10. I found it extremely interesting that this was one of the first times since way back in Puritan texts that we have seen writers promote Jesus and Christianity in a way that wasn't just 'Jesus was a good role model'. This kind of put the "spotlight" on these so called "enlightened" people which was interesting flip considering how in earlier readings this semester it was the Christians who were doing all the slaving and the seemingly non-religious questioning it.

    However, it seems like all my classes have one section of the semester(or more)devoted to telling us how terrible white people are. I get that it is important to study, but to me personally it's getting depressing. One day when I have mixed children(since my fiancee is black)my kids are going to come home from school and ask me why their teacher thinks I am such a terrible person and I'm going to tell them to shut up and clean their rooms and hope Al Sharpton doesn't hear me. I wish we could stop hammering ourselves with how horrible we are.

  11. Erm, or emphasis NOT mine. I guess that doesn't work here. Oops.