Here’s an excerpt below from Paul Goodman’s Of One Blood: Abolitionism and the Origins of Racial Equality.
I’m really enjoying this book. There is a lot of good stuff in here – really, too much to post highlights on this website. It begins with this:
“Finally, let us urge upon you a total abandonment of prejudice against color,” abolitionist leaders instructed the thousands of rank and filers who had enlisted in the cause by 1837. Were slaves white skinned, they told them, no one would tolerate their bondage for an instant. White abolitionists who harbored color prejudice could never be efficient advocates of the cause because American slavery was racial in character and justification. “The abandonment of prejudice is required of us as a proof of our sincerity and consistency,” abolitionists affirmed. Seven years earlier, at the outset of his conversion to immediate abolition, William Lloyd Garrison had reached the same conclusion: “O that [my countrymen] might feel as keenly for a black skin as a white skin.” The black leader Samuel Cornish understood the significance of his people of the emergence of these white immediatists, despite their shortcomings: “They have shown that God created all men EQUAL.”
In the 1830s, for the first time in American history an articulate and significant minority of Americans embraced racial equality as both a concept and a commitment, although it was an ideal far more difficult to live up to than to profess. Earlier proponents of racial equality were isolated voices that left few traces. This new development marked a change in the history of race relations in America – at a time when the dominant view among elites and common folk held that there was no future for free blacks in the United States …”
Goodman has done an excellent job of tracing the pedigree of racial equality back to New England in the 1830s. “Immediatism” was a fanatical “ultraist” reform movement (teetotalism, another example, was often bundled with abolition) that grew out of the Finneyite revival during the Second Great Awakening.
“In the half-dozen years following the publication of Thoughts on African Colonization, white abolitionists, in the course of producing the founding texts of the movement, developed the most extensive defense of racial equality in American history. From Lydia Maria Child’s book length Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans (1833), to a fifteen-page pamphlet, Prejudice against Color (no date), published by the American Anti-Slavery Society, to Richard Hildreth’s powerful first antislavery novel, The Slave, The Memoir of Archy Moore (1836), abolitionists addressed the issue of prejudice and argued for immediate emancipation. Believing that race prejudice underpinned slavery, abolitionists committed themselves not just to emancipation, but, in the words of Article 2 of the New England Antislavery Society’s constitution in January 1832, “to improve the character and condition of the free people of color, to inform and correct public opinion in relation to their situation and rights and obtain from them equal civil and political rights and privileges with the whites.”
The only thing missing here is the modern term “racism” which abolitionists called “prejudice” or “race prejudice.” Otherwise, every aspect of the modern progressive worldview on race was in place by the 1830s: the DZGD (the dogma of zero group differences), White guilt, the hysterical moralizing, the magic negro, “prejudice” as the explanation for black dysfunction, etc.
“Correcting public opinion was no mean task. “Our prejudice against blacks is founded in sheer pride; and it originates in the circumstance that people of their color only, are universally allowed to be slaves,” Child argued. “We made slavery, and slavery made the prejudice.” Color phobia, abolitionists contended, is irrational, wicked, preposterous, and unmanly. It is contrary to natural rights and Christian teaching, which recognizes no distinctions based on color. Race prejudice, Elizur Wright Jr. exploded, is “a narrow, bitter, selfish, swinish absurdity.”
In the Northeast, racial equality grew out of evangelical Protestantism and Enlightenment rights talk: the former emphasized spiritual equality while the later emphasized the equal rights of humanity.