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Title: Once Enslaved: Formerly Enslaved People and Antislavery Politics in Nineteenth Century America
Authors: LaPointe, Bryan
Advisors: KarpWilentz, MatthewSean
Contributors: History Department
Keywords: Abolition
Antislavery Politics
Coming of Civil War
Runaway Slaves
Underground Railroad
Subjects: American history
Black history
Issue Date: 2023
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation offers a history of antislavery politics in the nineteenth century United States focusing on formerly enslaved people. It argues that their experiences and political activism were central to political abolitionism’s growth. From the early Republic to the eve of the Civil War, the struggles of those who had lived under slavery became increasingly tied to political ideas and organizing designed to undermine the institution. Former slaves – prominent and obscure, men, women, and children alike – used their enslaved experiences not only to convince white Americans of slavery’s evils. They invoked those pasts to rally audiences to support the political movement against slavery, especially in the 1840s and 1850s with the advent of antislavery political parties. Formerly enslaved people’s white political allies also openly invoked their backgrounds in slavery as an important political tactic. Antebellum antislavery politics and its growth consequently became predicated in large part on recognizing the humanity of enslaved people and the importance of their political participation. Overall, this project explores the close relationship between experiences of slavery, former and runaway slaves’ political activism, and the rise of antislavery politics to offer new ways of understanding those topics. Through direct electoral interventions, public and private political relationships with white political activists, and fugitive slave cases, formerly and runaway enslaved people infused their experiences and activism into antislavery politics. In the process, they transformed political abolitionism and redefined antebellum politics. Exploring former slaves’ politics demonstrates how visceral and intimate perspectives of slavery, rather than abstract discussions of its existential threat or westward expansion, helped define the antislavery political world of the nineteenth century. For formerly enslaved people, the personal was always political and vice-versa. They portrayed slavery as a political system deserving of destruction through political means, using their sufferings and struggles for significant political effect and staking claims to political power. By 1860, formerly enslaved people’s politics reached national proportions as the antislavery political cause to which they contributed captured the presidency – eventually sparking the Civil War and emancipation itself.
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:History

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