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Well, I want to jump ahead to the end of the 1850s and the aftermath of this period. At some point, you know, in the 1850s, very straight in the start of this, of a ripple, but you can't get these in the 2040s. You know, I read some of it in the War of 1859, and I guess I'm not 200, but he's described as simple a rare piece of piece. You know, no longer leading the movement. Right. But on the other hand, this movement gets huge. Right. Right. And so I wonder, do you have a sense that both in the size and the character movement, becoming violent, that, you know, backgrounds converted people really through to violence, and that's what it did. Would Garrison, did he begin to feel that he thinks what's along this, this would be coming? You know, at some point during the movement, of course he does.
He's back here, so at what point do you think he can recognize that the thing that they have started is to snuff all the yarns that are controlled, that he can no longer dictate all the pieces of the wall. Excuse me. Well, over the course of Garrison's abolitionist career, there are moments I think where he realizes that both the movement and specific individuals will become autonomous. And there are moments of challenge, the split in the American Anti-Slavery Society is one. The rift with Douglas is another. And the turn toward violence that's made manifest in the Nat Turner Revolt of the 1830s and then the Harper's Ferry moment of the 1850s. And you know, I think part of the reason that Garrison succeeds, not so much even succeeds,
one of the reasons that Garrison survives the Antibellum period, which is just an overwhelming period to confront. I mean, in the ways that he confronts it with all his lists and his documents and his catalogs of evils and the spirited editorials and the responses to criticism and the threats on his life. But one of the reasons that he survives is because he has no investment in being at the head of the movement. He wants to be in the movement. He wants there to be a movement. And it's that kind of political humility. We might call it savvy, but I think it's more humility that enables him to survive. But at the same time, you know, that moment of Harper's Ferry.
And again, John Brown, somebody who has infiltrated, you know, just the bastions of New England, you know, propriety. Right? The Concord 12. And you know, just, you know, who are these people who have funded him and intrigue bounds? And you know, are you on the list? Are you not on the list? You know, so the anti-slavery fight literally has come home to Boston. But he's seen that already, you know, the Burns moment. But you know, at that moment when John Brown is executed and at that moment where there is a service and Garrison is, you know, sort of trying to make sense of this moment, two things are, at least, well, many things are happening, but two in particular, one is, in a way that that Turner could never be, John Brown becomes a martyr. He has died for this cause. He has died for his beliefs. Garrison could have died many times, but not because he picked up a gun and went to raid a federal arsenal,
but because somebody chased him down and lynched him, that would be how he died. He would be a victim. He would be, he would not be catapulted necessarily to that position of martyr, that would rally so many people. And the idea of him, you know, his wife tending to him in the cell until his last moments of the campaigns of the ladies and where will his body be carried and, you know, just all the drama around what it was that John Brown decided to do and how he did it. And whether or not he succeeded or failed, it was the fact that he gave his life. And you see that there's this real shift towards, I mean, it's almost immediate. It's like the Messiah has been here, you know, they have this memorial service and they say, this is the day on which John Brown was murdered, was killed. The day he died, we gather here now to witness his resurrection. They're talking as though this is the good Lord come back. You know, after three days, this is messianic.
And Garrison has to resolve this, this tension between clearly unapologetic armed resistance and strategy and maneuver with pacifism and moral swation. And you can see, or we can hear in that speech that he gives, he just, he is truly like a boat in rough sea. He's just rocking back and forth. Yes, we must embrace, but oh, on the other hand, can we really bear arms? Oh, but John Brown has done so much for, oh, but no, he, and you see him almost vacillating. It's as though he's so torn because he understands what it is to pledge your life to a cause. He did that, has done that. He has been threatened, but he still lives. John Brown marched to the gallows, and Garrison now has to think about what does it mean to be an abolitionist in an age when men can martyr themselves. For the cause, it's a very different kind of presence and effect, you know, both on the anti-slavery and the pro-slavery forces.
How is that? Yeah, so point back to the big picture of the art story. So the role that Garrison plays in the road to the Civil War is a multifaceted one.
On the one hand, it seems, yeah, okay, I'll make it back up. When we think about the impact that Garrison has on the peculiar institution of slavery and the national commitment and accommodation of slavery, one can see that the way in which Garrison waged his war with words. Sorry, I've got like nine things in my head.
I just need to find a good way to start. If you promise not to air this before the millionth time, I'm fine to mull him out. So the question is, what role does Garrison play in the... Okay, I'll just start talking and trust your editing, okay, so it wouldn't be right to say that Garrison caused the Civil War. I'm going to rephrase it, which doesn't change anything.
It wouldn't be fair to say that the abolitionists caused the Civil War. Or some who would say that they're meddling and their mischief upset this notion of unity that was working just fine. But I think perhaps the hallmark of the abolitionist movement was its investment in the word. Garrison was committed to telling truths. And he was a brave man who told the truth as he saw it. He invited dissent. He said, if you disagree with me, disagree with me. And I will respond. So it wasn't a one-way street. And the move towards war, towards a Civil War, towards the session had everything to do with words as well. So, in a way, the abolitionists and all the individuals who were articulate and persuasive and uncompromising in their indictment of it and their critique of it,
and their suggestions for a better union, you know, Sarah Parker-Rumon, Charles Lennox-Rumon, Douglas Garrison. All of those individuals, in many ways, were fighting the Civil War. They were Civil War soldiers, right? The move towards the session and the northern move to preserve the union came about, you know, in a way unwillingly. But it came about in a way, you know, this whole notion of disunion that Garrison was interested in thinking about and pursuing. You know, it wasn't that he was being impatient.
It was that, again, abolition, you know, was really about exposing the reality, right? It was about explaining bare the messy business that kept this big engine going. And, you know, people can think that slavery was just, you know, sort of this modest enterprise, and there were many institutions, you know, many homes in the South that did not have slaves. But the big picture is that slavery was the engine that fuel. You know, it was the fuel that powered the engine of these United States. It was slave labor. It was in a sort of class structure, power, privilege, the whole set of those things. But, you know, you see Lincoln coming in to office, and even as he's campaigning. I mean, he is endorsing Zachary Taylor at one point for president, who is a pro-slavery slaveholding man, not the first slaveholding president that we have. You know, Lincoln is married to a woman from Kentucky who is part, you know, like Angelina Grimke, established in a profitable, well-to-do slave family.
And, you know, Garrison in some ways is, I'm kind of going off topic, is that okay? Yeah, sort of. Yeah, I'm trying to get there. So, you know, so, I guess what I wanted to say was, you know, sort of in thinking about the run-up to the Civil War and the role or the impact that abolition had on it. You know, you have Garrison thinking about how to tell the truth and to use the word printed and spoken to bear witness, to what the peculiar institution is all about, and how it is preserved. Right? It's not about the preservation of the union. He's interested in thinking about how is it that slavery is preserved. And with the changes in political climate that you have, as you have Abraham Lincoln coming into office, with a record of supporting pro-slavery policies and, you know, with his own direct connection through marriage to a slave owning family in Kentucky, because of his wife's belonging to a family of slave owners. You have Garrison and others rightly skeptical that there will indeed be a moment of truth and that there will be finally some change in direction and federal policy.
But, you know, it's as though the strategy of this war of words is transposed into this war with guns, because when South Carolina initiates its secession, it's because it wants to step back. It's feeling maligned. The truths that are being shared in the North are offending its sensibilities and it wants to tell a different story. And so it wants to chart a new history. It's about preserving, yes, slavery, but preserving their own narrative of existence. Garrison and the abolitionists, all of them have been involved in campaigns to, again, tell the story. So, yes, there's just the loss of the Civil War that was just staggering in the lives lost in the carnage and just the upheaval and the devastation, all of that, there. And it was about states trying to rewrite their own histories and a nation trying to write a new chapter so that you have Lincoln now saying, we must preserve the union, how do we do that? It is through compromise.
I mean, at one point, he's advocating colonization. I mean, there are the subtexts that don't really get talked about as much, you know, so thinking about, oh, well, what's the cause of this distress? Well, it's the colored people among us and that famous meeting he has where he brings five ministers of color to the White House and says, you know, basically, you need to leave because your presence here is upsetting everybody. And, you know, as a people, you cannot expect to achieve much here because your presence is just so awful and can I interest you in colonization and two of them begin to pursue that line. But overall, Garrison reacts to that with complete horror and says that was one of the lowest moments that I have ever had, you know, the misfortune to behold. And thinks of Lincoln as a tall man with a very small mind, you know, he just is so outraged that the story can just be edited out and changed in that way. So for him, the war is about the narrative. Well, we know that, you know, history is written by the winners. And at this point, Garrison and the abolitionist want to win?
Lincoln and the Union want to win? And the Southern Force wants to win. So it's going to become a war, really, of words, who gets to tell the story that prevails. And in a second, on your Lincoln, we write the history. Yeah. Right. Right. I wonder if just to do that one time. Okay. What did I say something like? Oh, that the Civil War enterprise, the war that the Civil War was. What did I say? Okay. Right. Okay. I'll try to just repeat you repeating me. I just really try to get that. Okay. Good. Yes. Can you tell me what I said? Let me repeat that. Okay. So, right.
Okay. So as South Carolina initiates the session and begins to move back, it's as much about. Okay. So as as the move towards the session begins, a South Carolina begins to protest the way in which it's being represented in. Okay. So we'll get it as. All right. So as as the nation moves towards war, but as the nation first moves towards the session, the South Carolina begins to instant instant. I can't do this. Right. Okay. Right. Okay. Good. Thank you. Okay. So the move towards the session is as much of, you know, sort of a strategy to maintain autonomy over slavery as it is a protest of how the reputation and the story of Southern life is being portrayed.
And we know that this becomes not just a war of words now, it will transform itself into a war with guns, but those two pieces are essentially the same because you have forces now that want to control how the story of America and how the story of this anti-bellum world is told. Okay. Good. Yeah. It's like you say it and it just goes, you know, and you're like, okay, thanks for your help with that. Yeah. That's right. Okay. Thank you. It was room time.
Are we finished? Wow.
American Experience
The Abolitionists
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Interview with Lois Brown, part 4 of 4
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Lois Brown is a professor in the African American Studies Program and the Department of English at Wesleyan University. Brown's scholarship and research focus on African American and New England literary history and culture.
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American history, African Americans, civil rights, racism, abolition
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Chicago: “American Experience; The Abolitionists; Interview with Lois Brown, part 4 of 4,” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 20, 2024,
MLA: “American Experience; The Abolitionists; Interview with Lois Brown, part 4 of 4.” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 20, 2024. <>.
APA: American Experience; The Abolitionists; Interview with Lois Brown, part 4 of 4. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from