Conflicts of Law in Antebellum America: Criticism of the United States Constitution and the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act in the Works of William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Lysander Spooner, Lydia Maria Child, and Herman Melville
Metadata[+] Show full item record
The quest for African Americans to gain emancipation and equal civil rights occupied the efforts of abolitionists and antislavery advocates for much of the nineteenth century. For both men and women who valued the democratic principles of equality upon which the nation was founded, the struggle for freedom for Black Americans and their natural rights to liberty and self-determination was important not only for the abolitionist cause but for the nation to achieve the full contribution of all its inhabitants. While some of those involved in this cause are historically well-known, their specific criticism of slavery and the conflicts of law that they presented are not as well known. Viewing the struggle for African American freedom and equality through the writing of certain Antebellum writers who articulated their concerns about slavery presents a unique opportunity to see their resistance of slavery as an indictment of human-made or positive law that allowed government to violate individuals’ natural rights that were sanctioned by natural and divine law. Selected writers, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Lysander Spooner, Lydia Maria Child, and Herman Melville, articulated their criticisms of slavery and the law through their speeches, editorials, essays, and fiction and contributed to the culture of criticism that highlighted both the differences between abolitionists and the political debates about slavery. This project examines their writing and the ways their literary efforts brought to light the complexity of the slavery issue and the relationship between individual rights and the law in the turbulent decades leading up to the Civil War.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Abolition: rhetoric, reform, and the law -- Garrison and Douglass: Abolitionism and the Constitution -- Spooner and Child: Legal criticism and literary expression -- Melville, slave trade, and the law -- Conclusion: "Making the rights of all the same as our own"
Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)