I finished Daniel Walker Howe's essential history of antebellum America last weekend, and having done so, I want to double down on my recommendations. What an incredible, incredible book. I'll have more to say as the week goes on, but I want to focus on the books conclusion where Howe looks at the burgeoning 19th century women's rights movement. Howe notes that many of the nascent feminists started off as abolitionists or came from the family of abolitionists. This quote from Angelina Grimke gets at something special and beautiful:
The investigation of the rights of the slave has led me to better understand my own.
The Grimke family is a story in and of itself, one that we'll focus on later. Suffice to say that much like Abe Lincoln, and Ulysses Grant, Angelina Grimke was a Walker. Born into a wealthy South Carolina slave-holding family, Grimke became a Quaker, a feminist and an abolitionist.
As for the quote, I've generally felt the same about my own "investigation of the rights of the slave," except it sent me outward, as opposed to inward. At its best, the humanism undergirding the black freedom struggle, much like, the best portion of humanism undergirding the American Revolution really is about expanding the broad franchise.
In that vein, Howe ends his book with a scene at the Seneca Falls Convention. To understand the role of religion in society at the time, consider that the Convention was actually split over whether to push for suffrage (which many attendees dismissed as lunacy) or clerical ordination. By a bare majority the attendees voted for suffrage. At the end the Convention passed a "Declaration of Sentiments"
which rewrote the Declaration of Independence to include women:
The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.
He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.
He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men--both natives and foreigners.
Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.
He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.
Read the whole thing. Or better yet read Howe's book. Ending it like this just sent me to pieces. The Convention welcomed blacks and whites, women and men. In 1848. The book left me with a lot to think about in terms of the role of radicals (Garrisonians in that time) and pragmatists (Henry Clay, John Quincy Adams.)
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is a national correspondent for The Atlantic
, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of The Beautiful Struggle
, Between the World and Me,
and We Were Eight Years in Power