Electronic Thesis/Dissertation


Slavery and Suffering: William Lloyd Garrison and American Abolitionism in Memory and Literature Open Access

This dissertation examines the role of suffering in William Lloyd Garrison's antebellum anti-slavery theology, the rhetorical strategies that these religious beliefs inspired, and the influence of these ideas and images on the late 19th and early 20th century popular culture transformation of William Garrison into a representative symbol of Massachusetts and American abolitionism, moral fortitude, and sacrifice. It argues that the dramatic shift that occurs between 1831 and 1900 in how audiences remember, represent, and write about Garrison is indicative of a broader cultural transformation of perceptions about American abolitionism. By 1850, Garrison was considered a religiously heretical and socially dangerous madman by both northern and southern audiences. Even amongst New England abolitionists the term "Garrison man" was considered a derisive label. However, by the time of his 1879 death, the dominant trend within Massachusetts popular culture is to discuss Garrison as the symbol of American abolitionism and the representative example of the state's past anti-slavery activism. Far from being dangerous, he is instead widely described as embodying the region's best virtues. Northern magazines describe him as a "moral inspiration" and credit his influence with turning "the whole country into an anti-slavery society." This dissertation draws from private letters, diaries, newspapers, novels, memoirs, eulogies, textbooks, poetry, monuments, and festivals to excavate and examine the social, political, and cultural forces that facilitated the dramatic historical shift in representations of William Lloyd Garrison and New England abolitionists. It demonstrates the remarkable impact of the post-bellum Garrison revival--and particularly the rise of the literary trope of the "suffering abolitionist" that it inspires--on professional and non-professional histories of the Civil War from the late 19th to mid-20th century. In doing so, it examines the possibilities, limitations, and traces of the dominant language of suffering and sacrifice deployed to remember and memorialize William Lloyd Garrison and demonstrates it's broader impact on how Americans of the past and present have remembered and conceptualized the nature and scope of 19th century anti-slavery protest.

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