Missouri Regional Seminar on Early American History Grad Student Showcase

 02/11/2022

Debuting a new MRSEAH wrinkle, the February 11 meeting in St. Louis will, for the first time, feature discussion of graduate work: MU Ph.D. Candidate and Jeff Pasley advisee Mackenzie Tor’s paper, “‘The Tyrant Intemperance’: Temperance, Abolition, and Antebellum Black Reform Thought, 1820-1860,” and CUNY-Graduate Center Ph.D. Candidate Evan Turiano’s dissertation chapter-in-progress, “‘This National Crime’: Kidnapping and Interstate Comity in the 1820s” (see abstracts below). Lorri Glover, SLU John Francis Bannon Endowed Chair of History and longtime friend of the MRSEAH, will serve as interlocutor for the evening’s discussion.

Invitations to participate, along with copies of the papers to be discussed, will be distributed shortly.

“The Tyrant Intemperance”: Temperance, Abolition and Antebellum Black Reform Thought, 1820-1860

Speaking to a Scottish audience in 1846, Frederick Douglass declared, “I am a temperance man because I am an anti-slavery man; and I am an anti-slavery man because I love my fellow men.” Douglass and numerous other Black reformers have been synonymous with the abolition movement, but, as the above suggests, this affiliation has obscured their participation in and engagement with a range of social movements in the nineteenth century. Temperance was especially noteworthy for its ability to attract converts. According to these activists, drinking aided and abetted the stability of American slavery and segregation by lending white Americans a rationale for imagining the inferiority of enslaved and free Black Americans. Historians who have engaged with Black temperance have thus argued that advocates merely imitated white reform movements, effectively buying into white ideas of Black degradation. This paper changes the perception of the Black temperance reformers by contending that they pursued the cause with their own unique goals in mind. Namely, these activists trusted that swearing off alcohol would be a steppingstone to the abolition of slavery and the bestowal of equal citizenship rights.

Using organizational records, newspapers, and speeches, this paper will track the shifts in Black temperance thought before the Civil War to demonstrate the reformers’ consistent focus on matters of racial equality. The transformations mirrored and were symbiotic with changes in Black abolitionist thought. In the 1830s, leaders such as Douglass, William Whipper, and James W.C. Pennington championed an interracial temperance movement. Employing the rhetoric of universalism prevalent in the white temperance movement, they desired to work alongside white temperance advocates to promote sobriety. Even in this phase, however, they advocated temperance as an especially meaningful cause to oppressed Black Americans. Perhaps because of this insistence, Black temperance reformers found themselves largely excluded from white-led temperance organizations and establishments. This segregation, which did occasionally turn violent, led to the dominance of a more independent, separatist strand of reform thought by the mid-1840s championed by leaders such as Martin Delany and Henry Highland Garnet. These reformers argued that temperance could be a means to a revolution in which Black Americans would assert their rights and abolish slavery. In the end, the cause won immense support among various Black Americans; however, their continued insistence on temperance after the Civil War demonstrates that their target of equal citizenship remained incomplete. Ultimately, this chapter reframes our understanding of antebellum reform by highlighting the intersection of causes important to Black Americans in the nineteenth century.

“This National Crime”: Kidnapping and Interstate Comity in the 1820s”

This chapter examines how the debate over Black legal rights in fugitive slave rendition cases emerged in national politics in the wake of the Missouri Crisis. Where abolitionists had generally fought the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law in the states, the national reckoning over Black citizenship seen in the second Missouri Crisis and a wave of high-profile kidnappings in the 1820s convinced many in the antislavery movement that legal rights for accused fugitive slaves needed to be attained nationally, and that doing so would fundamentally threaten slaveholders’ claimed property right. These lessons would profoundly influence the emergence of immediatist abolitionism, antislavery national politics, and antislavery constitutionalism.

 

Mackenzie Tor received her B.A. in History & Italian from Providence College and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in History with Dr. Jeff Pasley. Her research interests include early American social and cultural history, and her dissertation examines segregation in the antebellum temperance movement. She currently serves as a Kinder Institute Ph.D. Fellow in Political History.

 

 

Evan Turiano is a Ph.D. Candidate in History and the 2021-2022 E.P. Thompson Dissertation Fellow at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. He researches nineteenth-century United States History, with a focus on slavery, politics and law. His dissertation, “‘Secession’s Moving Foundation’: The Fugitive Slave Rendition and the Politics of American Slavery” tells the story of battles over the legal rights of African Americans accused of being fugitive slaves from before the American Revolution through the onset of the Civil War. He has an article forthcoming in Journal of the Civil War Era, and aside from his scholarly work, Evan’s public writing has appeared in venues including Jacobin and the Queens Daily Eagle. Along with history, he writes on contemporary politics, education policy, and New York City. Evan has received fellowships from the City University of New York, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the University of Virginia Nau Center for Civil War History, the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, and the Colonial Dames of America.