Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Conference paper update

Thanks to some suggestions I received from readers of my previous post, I've revised the opening paragraphs of my conference paper. I took a hatchet to the first couple of paragraphs so I could get to Irish Repeal more quickly. To do so I've sacrificed the "two questions" way of framing the paper, and I'm not sure whether I've also sacrificed any "performative gloss."
In 1842, Garrisonian abolitionists, who took their name from the fiery editor of the Boston Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison, began to call publicly for the dissolution of the United States. The Union, they had concluded, was a sword and a shield for slavery; the Constitution was a proslavery instrument; and as long as Northerners stayed in a Union that contained slaveholders, they would bear guilt for America’s national sin. In a letter to the Liberator in April 1842, abolitionist Henry Clarke Wright summed up the new Garrisonian view: “we ought to have laid before the slaveholders, long ago, this alternative. You must abolish slavery, or we shall dissolve the Union.” In reality, the Garrisonians had laid that alternative before the South before, but it was not until the spring of 1842 that the Liberator began to propose disunionism as the “one standard” for dividing “genuine friends of liberty” from false ones. And it was not until two years later, in 1844, that the Garrisonian American Anti-Slavery Society adopted as its motto: “No Union with Slaveholders!” [1]

Meanwhile, during the same years in which the Garrisonians began calling for disunion, Irish reformers on the other side of the Atlantic were beginning to call for an end to a different union. In 1842 and 1843, early Irish nationalists known as Repealers were agitating for a repeal of the Act of Union of 1800, which disbanded Dublin’s independent Parliament in the wake of the Irish Rebellions of 1798 and united Ireland with Scotland and England under one Parliament in London. Forty years after this Union, Daniel O’Connell, a prominent British abolitionist who first earned international fame in the 1820s as the champion of Catholic emancipation, began to mobilize a movement for its repeal. In 1843, which O’Connell dubbed the “Repeal Year,” Irish Repealers held numerous “monster meetings” demanding the repeal of the union and the restoration of the eighteenth-century Irish Parliament. Across the ocean, their demands were echoed by the growing numbers of Irish immigrants in the United States, who began in 1840 to form Repeal societies of their own. [2]

What should we make of the fact that Garrison began to call for the dissolution of the Union at the same time that O’Connell was calling for the repeal of the Act of Union? Was it mere coincidence that the appeals of O’Connell and Garrison for disunion were so similar and simultaneous? This morning I want to suggest that it was not. In fact, I want to suggest that the Garrisonians explicitly saw Repeal as a model for their movement. In 1843, Edmund Quincy, a staunch Garrisonian, said in a guest editorial for the Liberator that abolition and Repeal were “precisely analogous in principle.” Quincy exaggerated when he said the analogy was precise: the two repeals were actually very different. But between 1842 and 1844 Garrisonians often described themselves as American analogues for Repealers, and even referred to the issue of disunion as the “great question of a repeal of the Union,” a phrase that deliberately echoed calls for Repeal in Ireland. I believe that paying attention to those echoes can help us understand disunionism better. Towards the end of my talk, I will even suggest that seeing Garrisonians in transnational perspective can illuminate aspects of their thought that might otherwise be obscured by a focus on the history of the United States. [3]
I'd still welcome your comments on which opening you prefer; the reason I'm focusing so much on the introduction is because those are the moments when the audience is most likely to be, er, awake, and I'd like to keep it that way if I can. Part of that, I know, will depend on the rest of the talk, which is nearly complete.


[1] Henry Clarke Wright, “The Only Alternative—Dissolution of the Union, or the Abolition of Slavery,” Liberator, 29 April 1842; “The Annual Meeting at New-York,” Liberator, 22 April 1842. For protests from other abolitionists about Garrison’s apparent call for a disunion litmus test, see James S. Gibbons, “The Dissolution of the Union,” Liberator, 13 May 1842.

[2] On the Union of 1800 and its aftermath, see the various essays collected in Dáire Keogh and Kevin Whelan, eds., Acts of Union: The Causes, Contexts and Consequences of the Act of Union (Dublin: Four Courts, 2001). On O’Connell’s early career before the Repeal movement, see On O’Connell’s early career, see Oliver MacDonagh, The Hereditary Bondsman: Daniel O’Connell, 1775-1829 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988); Wendy Hinde, Catholic Emancipation: A Shake to Men’s Minds (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992). See also T. Desmond Williams, “O’Connell’s Impact on Europe,” in Kevin B. Nowlan and Maurice R. O’Connell, eds., Daniel O’Connell: Portrait of a Radical (New York: Fordham University Press, 1985), 100-106; K. Theodore Hoppen, “Riding a Tiger: Daniel O’Connell, Reform, and Popular Politics in Ireland, 1800-1847,” Proceedings of the British Academy 100 (1999), 121-143.

[3] “The Irish Repeal Movement,” Liberator, 8 September 1843; WLG to George W. Benson, 13 May 1842, Walter M. Merrill and Louis Ruchames, eds., The Letters of William Lloyd Garrison (6 vols.; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971-1981), 3:74.

Collective Improvisation:
Caleb: I vote for this opening. It's economical in that it very quickly draws the parallels between the two movements, while expressing your interest in questions regarding disunion.

It's a daunting task, coming up with a good opening hook. But this clearly states what you're trying to get across with your presentation, and should hold your listeners' interest.

(Oh, I think I figured out why previous posts didn't post. It's because I can't read directions.)

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 12/13/2005 10:09:00 PM : Permalink  

Thanks for the feedback, John, as well as for your early comments via email. Was it the new "word verification" system that tripped you up?

Posted by Blogger Caleb McDaniel on 12/13/2005 11:33:00 PM : Permalink  

You're welcome for the comments; I'm looking forward to hearing the paper in its entirety.

And yes, I must admit it was my inattention to "Word Verification" that prevented my earlier posts from going through. At first, I just assumed it didn't apply to me. The things we must do to combat spam...

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 12/14/2005 04:25:00 PM : Permalink  

Caleb - Just wanted to say that I have also enjoyed spending time on your blog. I just noticed that we will both be presenting papers at the AHA next month. My talk is at 3:00pm on Thursday

Session #15: Old Unreconstructeds: Southern Memory and the Civil War

I plan to attend your talk. See you in Philly.

Posted by Blogger Kevin on 12/21/2005 10:07:00 PM : Permalink  

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