From the founding of the United States, there were people who opposed slavery, but many who grappled with the concept, including slave owner Thomas Jefferson, envisioned a plan of gradual emancipation for the country. In 1817, after the establishment of the American Colonization Society, free Blacks in Philadelphia and elsewhere began to fight for immediate abolition for all enslaved people in the United States. By the 1830s, they were joined in these efforts by white allies.
Although not as well known as later abolitionists like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglass, the abolitionists of the 1830s played a crucial role in building and popularizing the movement. These abolitionists, including William Lloyd Garrison, David Ruggles, Arthur and Lewis Tappan, the Forten Family, and the Grimké sisters, faced personal violence, destruction of property, financial ruin, and physical maladies as they raised their voices and put their bodies on the line for the cause.
I’m joined in this episode by J.D. Dickey, author of The Republic of Violence: The Tormented Rise of Abolition in Andrew Jackson's America.
Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. Image Credit: “Anti-Slavery Meeting on the [Boston] Common” From Gleason's Pictorial, May 3, 1851. Photomural from woodcut. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.
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Kelly Therese Pollock 0:00
This is Unsung History, the podcast where we discuss people and events in American history that haven't always received a lot of attention. I'm your host, Kelly Therese Pollock. I'll start each episode with a brief introduction to the topic, and then talk to someone who knows a lot more than I do. Be sure to subscribe to Unsung History on your favorite podcasting app, so you never miss an episode. And please, tell your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, maybe even strangers to listen too.
On today's episode, we're discussing the early abolition movement, especially during the 1830s. On December 21, 1816, a group met at the Davis Hotel in Washington, DC to establish the American Colonization Society. Presbyterian minister Reverend Robert Finley proposed that they establish a colony in Africa, where free Black people could live away from the racism of America. The impulse wasn't entirely positive. ACS proponents often thought that free Black people didn't have much to offer in the United States. And slaveholding southerners supported the plan, because they felt that the existence of free Blacks around slave societies encouraged runaways and rebellion. The first president of the ACS, was Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Bushrod Washington, a nephew of George Washington. From the beginning, free Black people opposed the ACS. On January 15, 1817, less than a month after the founding of the ACS, 3000 Black men packed into the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, to discuss the plan. The crowd, which represented nearly the entire Black male population of Philadelphia at the time, overwhelmingly rejected the ACS plan. The assembled group passed unanimously these resolutions, "Whereas our ancestors, not of choice, were the first cultivators of the wilds of America, we, their descendants, feel ourselves entitled to participate in the blessings of her luxuriant soil. Resolved, that we never will separate ourselves voluntarily from the slave population in this country. They are our brethren, by the ties of consanguinity of suffering and of wrongs." From that time, many free Black leaders began to not just oppose the ACS, but also to call for immediate abolition of all people enslaved in the United States. The best known of their early white allies in this fight was William Lloyd Garrison, who joined the abolition movement in late 1829, when he was 25 years old, publicly denouncing the ACS, with which he had been briefly associated. Garrison was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts. And he began apprenticing at a Newburyport newspaper when he was just 13. In 1831, Garrison co-founded a weekly anti-slavery newspaper, The Liberator, which continued publication until December, 1865, when it folded after the Civil War had brought emancipation to the country. Garrison also founded the New England Anti- Slavery Society in January, 1832, which joined the expanded American Anti-Slavery Society when it formed the next year. While Garrison is the best known, he was far from the only important abolitionist in the 1830s. Here, I'll briefly note, just some of the remarkable leaders. David Ruggles was born on March 15, 1810 in Norwich, Connecticut, the son of a free Black couple, David Sr, a blacksmith, and Nancy, a caterer. Ruggles was a writer and printer in New York City in the 1830s, and he opened the first African American owned bookstore in 1834. Although New York had abolished slavery, and decreed that enslaved people brought to New York would be free after nine months, not all enslaved people knew that they should be free. Ruggles was secretary of the biracial New York Committee of Vigilance, and he would go to private homes to inform workers that they were free. He also helped more than 600 fugitive slaves find freedom in the north.
In October, 1838, Ruggles helped fugitive slave, Frederick Douglass. And it was in Ruggles' home that Douglass and his fiancee, Anna Murray, were wed. Ruggles' work earned him many enemies, and he was physically beaten and his store set on fire. The 1830s took their toll on Ruggles and he died in 1849 at the age of only 39. The Tappan brothers, Arthur born in 1786, and Lewis, born in 1788, used the fortune that they had made importing silk to support the abolition cause. In 1833, they co-founded the American Anti-Slavery Society, and Arthur was its first president until 1840. They also financially supported an abolitionist newspaper, The Emancipator and Oberlin College in Ohio, which was one of the first colleges in the United States to admit Black students, and which boasted fully integrated classrooms. The Tappans lost almost everything in the panic of 1837, but they later recovered and rebuilt their businesses. Lewis died in 1863, and Arthur died two years later, in 1865. James Forten was born on September 2, 1766, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Forten, a wealthy free Black sailmaker was one of the organizers of the 1817 meeting at Bethel AME. And although he had previously supported the idea of colonization, from that meeting on he strongly opposed the ACS, and worked toward immediate abolition. Forten drafted the resolution following the meeting that the leaders sent to the Pennsylvania congressional delegation. It was Forten who helped persuade Garrison to adopt an anti-colonization position. And Forten also helped fund The Liberator and published letters in it. Forten's wife and daughters were just as important to the cause. His wife Charlotte, and daughters Margaretta, Sarah and Harriet, helped establish the biracial Philadelphia Female Anti- Slavery Society in 1833. And they remained leaders in the organization and represented the society as delegates to state and national conventions. Sarah was a writer who published poetry and articles in The Liberator. Harriet remained a public abolitionist, even after marriage and the births of her five children, and she and her husband housed fugitive slaves. Later, Harriet lectured in support of Black suffrage. Sarah and Angelina Grimke were born into a slave owning and patriarchal family in Charleston, South Carolina. Sarah was born on November 29, 1792, the sixth child of 14, and Angelina was born on February 20, 1805, the 13th child.
Sarah became Angelina's godmother, forming a bond that would last throughout their lives. At age 26, Sarah went with her father to Philadelphia, where he was receiving medical care. In Philadelphia, she met the Quakers, who introduced her to their liberal views on slavery and gender equality. After the death of their father, Sarah returned to Charleston, but her abolitionist views grew and she soon relocated to Philadelphia permanently. Angelina joined her there in 1829 and the sisters joined the Quaker community. In 1835, Angelina wrote an anti-slavery letter to Garrison. He published the letter without her permission, which sparked the sisters' public move to the abolitionist cause. Theodore Weld, who would later become Angelina's husband, trained the sisters as abolitionist speakers. Women public speakers were rare at the time. And at first, they spoke with private parlor meetings to audiences of all women. But eventually, they drew larger crowds and spoke to mixed groups. The sisters also wrote abolitionist tracts. In 1836, Angelina published "An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South," and Sarah published "Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States," which they followed by a lecture tour of Congregationalist churches in the Northeast. On February 21, 1838, Angelina became the first woman to address the Massachusetts legislature when she presented the petitions demanding an end to the slave trade in Washington, DC. In 1839, the Grimke sisters with Weld published "American Slavery as It Is: Testimony of 1000 Witnesses." Eventually, the three left public life and operated a boarding school in New Jersey. Joining me to discuss the abolition movement in the 1830s is writer JD Dickey, author of "The Republic of Violence: The Tormented Rise of Abolition in Andrew Jackson's America." Welcome, JD, thank you so much for joining me.
J. D. Dickey 11:45
It's great to be here.
Kelly Therese Pollock 11:46
I would like to start by asking just what made you decide to write a book about the early days of the abolition movement, you know, how you sort of got into this subject.
J. D. Dickey 11:57
So it's been a topic that I've come back to again, and again, in my recent books. In fact, all of the books that I wrote beforehand had at least one element of abolition in them. In my first book, there was a significant chapter in the book about slavery in Washington, DC, and about what a prominent role it played, and also the disgraceful treatment of free Black citizens in DC as well. And then I wrote a book called "Rising in Flames," which had a core of abolitionists who followed Sherman on his March, and tried to combine military and social aims in advance of that. And then the most recent book before this one, "American Demagogue," had a chapter near the end that was about how strangely enough Congregational Calvinists, there was a splinter group of those preachers who came to strongly support abolition kind of in an unexpected way. And so all of that led up to this book, and especially the first book about Washington, DC. I gained some knowledge there of the 1830s, and exactly what a raucous and terrible time it was.
Kelly Therese Pollock 13:13
Yes, it was. And we'll get into that a little bit. So what is your sort of process for doing this research? You, you know, I looked through your bibliography, you've got a lot of primary sources, and of course, some secondary sources there as well. But how do you sort of get into doing the research, and then putting this all into a narrative frame?
J. D. Dickey 13:35
Yes, good question. So in previous books, I was able to do a healthy amount of primary and secondary research. And for the latest book, because it was written during COVID, and the research libraries were closed, I had to rely on a lot of online sources, downloading PDFs, of you know, ancient newspaper articles and things like that. And luckily, The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison's newspaper is fully online. And so you can download those and I have subscriptions and other things to enable me to get primary sources to go along with the secondary sources. So normally, it would be more of a straight up approach of going to the libraries and finding the sources and then following them where they lead you, which is, you know, the way to do it. And so your, your thesis can change, depending on the evidence you find. But in this case, even though the thesis did change a bit, I was reliant on having to do more of an online approach.
Kelly Therese Pollock 14:37
Yeah. I heard that from several people, recently, for obvious reasons. So one of the things you want to do in in this book is focus not just on William Lloyd Garrison, who is of course an extremely important figure and does figure into the book, but all of the other people in this time period who are just not very well known, or at least, you know, not as well known as some of the later figures in the abolition movement. How did you sort of go through, trace who all of these people were that you wanted to make sure to to focus on? Were there people that, you know, you hoped you could have gotten more, but they just didn't have as many sources? Like, what did that look like for you?
J. D. Dickey 15:21
Yeah, absolutely. So the way I went about it was starting off not knowing the ideal selection of people to focus on. I just read broadly on abolition research widely, and then found certain names coming up again and again. And of course, one of them is Garrison. He's kind of the figure that provides the through line for the narrative, but I don't think he's the most important abolitionist of the time. He's certainly the most familiar, he was certainly the most divisive, but I don't think he was the most important and other people might have a valid claim to that. So by collating that research, I was able to narrow it down to about six or seven figures that I thought could really represent the different strands of abolition, not just kind of the what we would think of as the middle class religious reformer approach, like Garrison, or like the conservative businessmen, Arthur and Lewis Tappan, but also the significant number of Black abolitionists who let's not forget, had started the movement in its modern form in 1817. So they were at it for a good dozen years before Garrison got involved with immediatism, demanding that slavery stop now instead of waiting for some unknown time in the future. And so I was able to find these different figures, and especially African American figures and women, reformers and abolitionists, like Angelina and Sarah Grimke, Lucretia Mott and others, and kind of weave them into a narrative. Unfortunately, I couldn't get to everyone. I found that by narrowing down my scope to 1833 to 1838, that necessarily left a few figures off on either end, and the most important of whom were David Walker, and Maria Stewart. And I do mention them as significant figures in the book. But what they were doing was was prominent in the late 1820s and early 1830s. But they're so essential that I found myself resorting to flashbacks in the book to cover that, simply because, you know, David Walker had written this amazing appeal "To the Colored Citizens of the World," it was called, in which he used rhetoric that they would have been familiar with in the 1960s, to cast off the chains of oppression. But to go further, I mean, I think there's a direct direct link between someone like Walker and Malcolm X, and later on more nationalist figures. And also Maria Stewart, a trailblazing figure who not only was the first woman to speak in front of large crowds of people, but the first Black woman, and the first person to say things that hadn't been said before addressing gender inequality, as well as racial oppression. And so it hurt not to be able to include those figures in terms of as primary narrative figures. But I hope I addressed it in terms of the flashbacks and in terms of the setup for the story.
Kelly Therese Pollock 18:22
Yeah. So you mentioned violence, and this is a sort of really rough time. And it definitely is. It's striking that some of the sort of violence and contention is is between people who basically all don't want slavery. Right? There's the abolitionists and then there's this colonization movement, which, on the face of it seems like an okay thing. They're like, "Okay, we want we want slavery to go away. We want to find a home for the African Americans who will be freed from slavery," but it turns into this like battle. So what what is going on here?
J. D. Dickey 18:58
Okay, so there are a couple of different schisms going on, within abolition and also between abolition and its enemies. And so the subtitle of the book is probably more important than the title of the book, "The Tormented Rise of Abolition in Andrew Jackson's America." And it's tormented for a couple reasons. Now, the primary reason the reason that you can see on the cover of the book, where a mob is leading Garrison to the gallows to be hanged is between abolition and its enemies. And so the enemies of abolition, of course, are often in the streets, at least working class and middle class white men, and especially funded by business interests in the north, who have a stake in the slave trade. And so that element of violent is violence is the strongest and it's the most consistent throughout the book, but abolition it also was tormented by these divisions within it and one of them, as you mentioned, is the one that begins at the very dawn of the modern or at least 19th century abolition movement. And that's between colonizationists and between immediatists or people who want slavery to end immediately. And it becomes so contentious in part because what colonizationists, including a number of presidents, like James Madison are claiming is that the reason slavery is persisting is because of the subversive influence of free African Americans in the United States, which is a perverse notion, and one that obviously can't hold up to evidence. Now, I don't want to quote Madison for that. But there are plenty of certainly pamphleteers and supporters of the movement who felt that the only way to get slavery rid of was to send Black people to Africa, even if they had spent all their lives in America and their families had been here for centuries. So that notion which the abolitionists who believed in immediatism found so offensive was it was enough to create a another, another schism in the movement and also to drive many of these colonizationists into the arms of the pro-slavery movement. Now, there's another element as well, that I want to mention, without breaking down all of the schisms, and that is by the end of the 1830s, there were also arguments between more conservative-minded abolitionist church men, and more radical believers in women's rights, and those like the Grimkes, who saw that women's rights was fundamental to fixing racial oppression as well. So women's rights and racial rights were kind of intertwined. But there's one more, actually there's one more fundamental division in the movement. And that has to do with Garrison in that Garrison was more of a purist in the movement. He didn't want people following along on the bandwagon simply because they said they believed in immediatism, but rather, he wanted people to be radical in their support of the abolition goals. And that meant rejecting and outright condemning the actions of churchmen who were foot draggers, and who didn't see things the way he did. And so all of that combination by the end of the 1830s creates quite a divisive mix, and ultimately leads abolition into a number of different directions in the two decades following.
Kelly Therese Pollock 22:25
This sort of violence we're talking about, you talked about, you know, dragging Garrison to gallows trying to, but you know, there's, there's setting fire, there's beating, there's getting people out of their homes, like this is really, really violent. It's kind of, it's hard to imagine in this day and age, what it would be like to do this, and then what bravery It must take then to get back up and say, "No, I'm going to keep speaking out for abolition, even though you're trying to chase me out of my home, you're trying to burn down my home, beating me up," whatever it is. So could you maybe talk a little bit about that, and about people like Ruggles and what he went through and what it takes to then just kind of keep getting up and doing it all over again?
J. D. Dickey 23:09
Absolutely. And it's good to mention him because his view of the abolition struggle was in some ways contrary, at least in the beginning of 1830s, to the more religiously minded, and I say religiously minded, I'm talking about conservatively religiously minded because it's not like these were atheists versus fundamentalists. These were people who believed in Christian theology for the most part, but at the same time, some of them just did not believe in turning the other cheek. And one of them was Ruggles. David Ruggles was a grocer. He was a press agent. He was an activist, he was the creator of the first Black-owned bookstore and magazine in the United States, and a galvanizing figure. And by the mid 1830s, he realized that the presence of slavery in New York, even though it was technically banned, was was deep, and that Black people were being kidnapped from their homes, and that fugitive slaves were being run down in the streets, and that New York, in its own way was supporting the slave trade as much as a city like Washington, DC, which was more open about it. And so he went about trying to prevent that kind of violence upon Black citizens from occurring. And often that meant, you know, heading off the violence against Black people before it could happen. And that meant he would investigate these slave ships that would come into harbor. And some people alleged that he helped to free people physically, using using weapons and some less rumored factors that also had him on the ground doing the dirty work of having to fight slavery and oppression and kidnapping in the streets. And so I think that kind of figure becomes more prominent, Ruggles and his supporters by the end of 1830s becomes a counterweight to the majority view of abolitionists that the better thing to do is follow the example of Jesus and just turn the other cheek. But in the face of all this mob violence, it becomes difficult because how can you turn the other cheek if if these hooligans are raging in the streets and threatening to extinguish the movement altogether? And that becomes the crux of the book. And to go back to your first point, why were things so violent? Well, part of it was the nature of Jacksonian Democracy, which was what everybody knows was democracy for the white man, and not for anybody else. And there's also a good argument to be made, that that kind of democracy for the white man also came at the expense of other people. I mean, certainly the way Jackson expressed it, a slaveholder himself. And so this kind of ferment wasn't only fueled by the politics of the time, but also by alcohol. The average American drank five gallons of hard liquor a year. Now, that's more than any other country on earth at the moment, and it's double the current national rate. And so most of the people consuming this were men in taverns, and often it was linked to politics. And so, you know, at election time, you might go to a tavern and summon your troops to try to fight the enemy often at the ballot box. And, and then see what happens. And then your own press would report on it make you seem like the victim, make the other side seem evil, and vice versa. And that would lead to this combustible atmosphere. And then when you add race to it, and abolition, then it's no surprise that the atmosphere was incredibly tyrannical for anyone trying to support an idea as controversial as abolition at the time, certainly controversial in white circles. And it led to this chaos that happened, that reached its peak during the era that I talked about. And while abolition, and abolitionists and Black people were the primary people attacked, I should also mention that violence went across the full spectrum. I mean, there were there was anti- Protestant, anti-Catholic violence, there was even a riot that involved attacking hot air balloonists because they couldn't get their balloon to inflate. And so I guess they needed to be pummeled too by a mob. And so it was just it was a factor of the time, but made much worse by racism, and the general tenor of racial relations.
Kelly Therese Pollock 27:34
Yeah, in that you were mentioning the the press and getting sort of your press to relate your side of the story. And that's a really important piece of this as well. And nearly everybody in here is involved in the press in some way, or is publishing in the press. So what does that look like? I mean, that's not just the sort of, you know, big one newspaper per city that we might have now, but but there's a lot of different presses and doing a lot of different stuff. So what what were the kinds of things that you saw going on there?
J. D. Dickey 28:06
So it's the press. I'm glad you asked that question. It's a fundamental factor in the book, in the story. And I'll mention the positive aspects, at least for abolitionists, and that is, in the from the late 1820s, you've got a figure like Samuel Cornish, who was a churchman who left his congregation because of various circumstances, and ended up publishing the first Black owned newspaper in the in the country called "Freedom's Journal." And he followed that up with another journal called "The Rights of All." And then a couple of years later, William Lloyd Garrison picked up on his ideas and the ideas of other Black writers, and created "The Liberator." And so these kind of became the fundamental core of the writing at the time for abolition, along with "The Emancipator" funded funded by the Tappan brothers. And so there was definitely an ability to get the word out during this era from abolitionists, even though what they said was controversial because it flew in the face of what politicians and the clergy and businessmen wanted. But at the same time, they were able to establish a real momentum with their words and Garrison most of all, because his words were often the most strident. He would attack his enemies in terms we would find familiar. I mean, it would you this wouldn't be anything unusual. It wouldn't seem that way to us today. If you look at what people say online, it was echoed in the 19th century speech of the time from Garrison, who called his enemies fools and knaves and creatures of the devil and all of these other things. And sometimes he was right. I mean, the pro-slavery forces did embody that kind of wickedness quite often. And then on the other side, the mainstream newspapers pilloried abolitionists, they mocked them and in the case of James Watson Webb's Courier and Enquirer newspaper in New York, they even helped summon mobs to fight against them. Now, this wasn't just any old newspaper, "The Courier Enquirer" sounds kind of like the National Enquirer today, but wasn't. If you think about the reach of this newspaper, it was more on the lines of the Washington Post. And so The Courier and Enquirer not only had its columns, and its copy distributed throughout the country, it had some Pony Express system, which was able to distribute news quickly across the country. And also, that meant that its incendiary opinions, often racist against Black people and abolitionists, were echoed by countless smaller newspapers across the country. And Webb himself was was a true villain. I mean, the guy was a duelist. He was he was a bigot. He hated Black people. He hated a number of people, but he especially hated abolitionists and Black people. And as I mentioned, he summoned mobs to attack abolitionists in the streets and Black people in their homes. And so the press was core to this era, it was fundamental, both on the side of abolitionists and against them.
Kelly Therese Pollock 31:10
Yeah. So we've talked a little bit about women and the importance of women in this movement. But what was interesting to me, too, was thinking about sort of the opportunities that this movement gave to women. So women perhaps wouldn't have had these opportunities to go out and speak in front of large audiences. They were publishing in these newspapers, and you focus on several of them, especially the Grimke sisters and the Forten sisters. So I wonder if you could reflect on that piece of it sort of the what this movement, the women, of course, are giving a ton to the movement, but also what this movement gives to the women?
J. D. Dickey 31:50
Yes, absolutely. So if, if we think about abolition in the modern form, women are fundamental to it. They are there in 1817, at the first major anti-colonizationist meeting that expresses the Black feelings of Black people against sending them to Africa. And then later, through the galvanizing figure of Maria Maria Stewart, we see somebody who's able to express these feelings on the stump and in print, and able to generate a real reaction, both pro and against what she's supporting. So it's there from the beginning. And then by the time my narrative begins in 1833, we have the example of Sarah Forten and her mother and her sisters, who go on to form one of the core abolitionist societies, the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, and they become critical to it. And now Sarah Forten herself is a poet. She's published in The Liberator and other journals, and she eventually comes out of her cocoon her her her carefully nurtured upper middle class cocoon to basically a fight in the streets, or at least in the, in the the social arena, in favor of the cause. And before this, the way that women often often supported and undergirded the idea of abolition was through often sewing circles, literary circles and other community type events that enabled them to network and meet people. And often times these networks stretched overseas to British activists like Harriet Martineau, one of the great British feminists and abolitionists at the time. And so that's where it starts. And then through the these organs like the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, and its counterpart in Boston, we find that momentum picks up and it picks up even further, once petition campaigns begin in the mid 1830s, in which women and girls are going door to door and asking people that they don't know to sign petitions against slavery, and send them on to Washington. And this becomes critical. I mean, this is a factor of why abolition creates more momentum in Congress. Now we're talking about small amounts in Congress, but eventually, you know, a seed that develops into something greater, as well as on the homefront. And so by doing that, they start building momentum. And then when you get a figure like Angelina Grimke, who comes along, who gives speeches in public, and from the pulpit, which is unheard of, for somebody who's not a church woman herself, who is someone who isn't of the cloth, I should say, you can see that it becomes incredibly galvanizing. And so by the end of the decade, women's rights and the fight against slavery become intertwined in this in this segment of the movement, and that becomes controversial and, and certainly causes a reaction among the more conservative churchmen and that's another factor in the schism of the era.
Kelly Therese Pollock 34:56
Yeah, so one of the other really striking things in this narrative is how how much this movement takes out of all of the main people. But you say in the in the author's note like, this is going to be hard if you're looking for a happy ending. And not only do they of course not achieve full abolition by the end of the decade, but but also they're all just sort of broken as people by the end. So what why was that such a, I mean, we've we've talked some about sort of the violence and stuff, but it seems like it took so much out of all of the people involved in this. And so you know, what, what were you sort of seeing there as you were putting all of this together?
J. D. Dickey 35:40
Yeah, I think that often the the trailblazers often suffer for their work, because to be on the very vanguard of social change, as these folks were, really ends up damaging people's livelihood and their their health. Now, in the case of Garrison, the most famous of them, he seemed to go on to prosper. He was the one exception to this. But in every other case, like famously, David Ruggles, he loses his eyesight, he becomes infirm, he almost dies at several points. And then he eventually recovers enough to become a hydrotherapist, and naturopath, which which is interesting and unexpected, but the decade really takes it out of him as well with other people. Angelina Grimke, again, suffers from health problems by the end of the decade. And, and I think the schism within the movement had a huge factor on this, that her friends attacked her, as well as her enemies. You know, it's easier to feel that you have have a certain energy, if your enemies are attacking you, and you have your friends supporting you. That can become strong and empowering. But if your friends are attacking you as well, and questioning what you do, and your enemies are adding to it, I just can't imagine the stresses. And if all of that is being played out in the press, it would just make you want to withdraw. And she does. By the end of the decade, she and her sister and her husband, also an abolitionist, Theodore Weld, retreat to New Jersey, because they just don't want to be a part of the chaos anymore. And there are countless other examples of people suffering from this, and having to find the next route forward. And it's no surprise actually, that the most famous abolitionists of the 1840s, aside from Garrison, are a different group of people, like Frederick Douglass, like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, because the 1830s grounded out of people facing mobs everyday and being attacked in the press. That would be I think people would have a hard time imagining what that would be, especially given this decade, was the most violent in American history outside of wartime, and abolition and anti-abolition were one of the features of that.
Kelly Therese Pollock 38:04
And difficult economically and morally taking stuff out of people.
J. D. Dickey 38:09
Yeah, I should mention that. I'll go I'll just just a brief comment on that. Yes, the panic of 1837, as it was called, was probably the worst economic depression until the Great Depression. It lasted anywhere from six to 10 years afterward, businesses failed, people lost their savings, there was no central banking authority, no income protection or anything like that. And it was terrible. And, and I think, arguably, you could say that it was caused by the policies of the Andrew Jackson administration. Conveniently, he had left power by that time. So his successor, Martin Van Buren had to deal with it. But it was terrible. And so if you look at all of these factors, plus this economic chaos, it really indicates just what people were facing. And it's not surprising that many left the movement at the end of that era.
Yeah. Well, we could keep talking for a long time. But before I tell people how to get your book, or before you tell people how to get your book, is there anything else you want to make sure we talk about?
J. D. Dickey 39:12
Well, I think it's important to look at this as a stage in violence overall in the violence in American history, because we might look back because this is 180 years ago and say, Oh, that's conveniently consigned to the past, and we don't have to worry about it anymore. But these trends do show up again and again, and not just in terms of violence, not just in terms of racist violence. That's the obvious connection, but also in terms of voter manipulation. Also, in terms of voter suppression, and these other factors. A lot of these things have their roots in this era of people battling over the ballot box and trying to determine who gets to vote, and who is representative of the electorate. So I think that's another reason why I appreciated having the chance to write this book, is to be able to throw into relief some of the elements of the past and how they relate to now, because I do think there's a lot of continuity in American history. And that's why battles socially and politics are still being fought over many of these issues because many are still unsettled.
Kelly Therese Pollock 40:20
Well, everyone should read the book. I'd say it's a really great read, you know, doesn't have the happy ending, perhaps. But nonetheless, it's a great read. And, and what we didn't talk about that you can find in the book is the importance of John Quincy Adams to the movement. Yes, so, so tell everyone how to get your book.
J. D. Dickey 40:37
Okay. So it's called "Republic of Violence: The Tormented Rise of Abolition in Andrew Jackson's America." It's available in all the usual sources, and you can check out more at my website, which is JDDickey.com.
Excellent. Well, thank you so much. I learned so much in in reading your book and in preparing for this conversation. So thank you. It was it was really great to talk to you.
J. D. Dickey 41:00
It was it was really great to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
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J.D. Dickey has been writing books for 20 years, first as an author for Penguin, now as a writer of narrative nonfiction about American history, society and culture. Of his book, Rising in Flames, Harold Holzer in the Wall Street Journal wrote, "No one interested in Sherman’s March should be deprived of his lively narrative. Absolutely spellbinding." His earlier book, Empire of Mud, was a New York Times bestseller and described the troubled landscape of Washington, D.C., in the nineteenth century. He has also written articles on a broad range of historical, political and travel-related topics for newspapers and magazines, and appeared in media from C-SPAN's Book TV (in 2015 and 2018) to Public Radio International's program The Takeaway. In support of his work, he has lectured for the New York Historical Society, the Pritzker Military Museum and Library, the Atlanta History Center, and the U.S. Army War College, among other organizations. In addition to his nonfiction work, he has penned short stories for print and the web, and been featured on several literary venues. He lives in the Pacific Northwest.
J.D. Dickey is represented by Adam Chromy of Movable Type Management.