The color of abolition How a printer, a prophet, and a contessa moved a nation

Linda Hirshman, 1944-

Book - 2022

"The story of the fascinating, fraught alliance among Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and Maria Weston Chapman -- and how its breakup led to the success of America's most important social movement. In the crucial early years of the Abolition movement, the Boston branch of the cause seized upon the star power of the eloquent ex-slave Frederick Douglass to make its case for slaves' freedom. Journalist William Lloyd Garrison promoted emancipation while Garrison loyalist Maria Weston Chapman, known as "the Contessa," raised money and managed Douglass's speaking tour from her Boston townhouse. Conventional histories have seen Douglass's departure for the New York wing of the Abolition party as a res...ult of a rift between Douglass and Garrison. But, as acclaimed historian Linda Hirshman reveals, this completely misses the woman in power. Weston Chapman wrote cutting letters to Douglass, doubting his loyalty; the Bostonian abolitionists were shot through with racist prejudice, even aiming the N-word at Douglass among themselves. Through incisive, original analysis, Hirshman convinces that the inevitable breakup was in fact a successful failure. Eventually, as the most sought-after Black activist in America, Douglass was able to dangle the prize of his endorsement over the Republican Party's candidate for President, Abraham Lincoln. Two years later the abolition of slavery -- if not the abolition of racism -- became immutable law." --

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Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor 973.7114/Hirshman Checked In
Boston ; New York : Mariner Books 2022.
Main Author
Linda Hirshman, 1944- (author)
Physical Description
xviii, 330 pages : illustrations, portraits ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 279-314) and index.
  • Author's Note
  • Introduction: Meeting on Nantucket
  • Part I. Allies Arise
  • 1. Printer Garrison Learns His Trade
  • 2. Manager Weston Chapman Comes of Age
  • 3. Garrison Will Be Heard
  • 4. The Enslaved Write Their History
  • 5. Frederick Douglass's History in Slavery
  • 6. Frederick Douglass's Escape
  • Part II. Abolition Takes Root
  • 7. David Walker Appeals and Garrison Hears
  • 8. Starting the Black and White Antislavery Societies
  • 9. A National Movement Emerges
  • 10. The Liberator Will Be Read
  • 11. Maria Weston Chapman Takes the Reins
  • 12. Antislavery on the March
  • 13. Moral Garrison Splits with the Politicos
  • Part III. The Grand Alliance at Work
  • 14. Douglass Joins Garrison
  • 15. The Façade and the Cracks in the Alliance
  • 16. Political Abolition Pulls on Garrisonians
  • 17. The Cracks Widen
  • 18. Douglass Writes and Garrison Publishes
  • 19. Frederick Douglass, International Superstar and Publisher
  • Part IV. Douglass to the Political Side
  • 20. Slave Power Rises and Abolition Power Rises
  • 21. The Private Lives of Public Activists
  • 22. Compromise Makes Conflict Worse
  • 23. Douglass Recruits the Constitution
  • Part V. Douglass and Garrison Divide
  • 24. The Political Divorce
  • 25. The Personal Divorce
  • Epilogue: Three Meetings and a Funeral
  • Acknowledgments
  • A Note on Sources
  • Notes
  • Index
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Historian and former labor lawyer Hirshman (Reckoning) focuses this informative look at the 19th-century antislavery movement on the relationship between Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. Publisher of the abolitionist newspaper the Liberator and founder of the New England Anti-Slavery Society, Garrison and his followers called for immediate freedom for enslaved people and refused to work with any political or religious institution that didn't reject slavery. Douglass was one of the most sought-after speakers and writers associated with Garrison's network of antislavery societies until 1853, when he broke with the group to join the more politically focused American Anti-Slavery Society. Hirshman traces the roots of the fallout to Maria Weston Chapman, a wealthy activist who organized fund-raising bazaars and petition campaigns for Garrison and ran the Liberator in his absences. According to Hirshman, it was Weston Chapman's "casual racism" and attempts to micromanage Douglass, coupled with his doubts about the effectiveness of Garrison's policy of "nonpolitical nonresistance," that led to the break, a realignment of the antislavery movement that Hirshman contends was crucial to electing Abraham Lincoln in 1860. By lucidly untangling the abolitionist movement's complex web of alliances, Hirshman sheds light on the antebellum period and the dynamics of social movements in general. American history buffs will be engrossed. Illus. Agent: David Kuhn, Aevitas Creative Management. (Feb.)

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Review by Library Journal Review

While the lives of Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison have been extensively covered in their own biographies, Hirshman (Reckoning; Sisters-in-Law) wanted to know more about their interracial alliance to end slavery and why it fell apart. What she discovered in her research for this book was a wealthy white woman at the center, Maria Weston Chapman, a largely forgotten figure in this story. Hirshman combed through the many thousands of letters abolitionists sent to and from Chapman, who supported and largely controlled Boston's American Anti-Slavery Society, which funded Douglass's and Garrison's speaking careers and The Liberator, Garrison's newspaper. Hirshman contends that Chapman drove a wedge between the two men by expressing her disdain to many members of the movement that Douglass dared to publish his memoir (to great acclaim) and strive for financial independence from his white benefactors. Douglass eventually left for Rochester, where he found refuge among abolitionists and started his own newspaper. The book includes black-and-white photographs of the central figures. VERDICT Hirshman brings much-needed attention to the little-known triangulation between Garrison, Douglass, and Chapman, opening a new realm of inquiry for readers of the history of slavery and abolition.--Kate Stewart

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

A history of a group of American abolitionists who were roiled by divisiveness. Despite having a common interest in ending slavery, the abolition movements of mid-19th-century America were hardly unified. As cultural historian Hirshman reveals, race, gender, and class issues incited deep, discomfiting conflicts. She focuses on three central figures: William Lloyd Garrison, publisher of the influential newspaper The Liberator; rousing orator and activist Frederick Douglass; and socialite Maria Weston Chapman, who earned the epithet "The Contessa." "Their alliance," Hirshman discovered, "fueled critical years of the movement, and their breakup affected the direction of the movement profoundly." Each was strong-willed and uncompromising: Garrison, whose initial connection to the anti-slavery cause came through his association with Boston Quakers, could be quarrelsome and moralistic. Weston Chapman, by virtue of her social status and wealth, expected to be obeyed. Douglass was an ambitious man who reveled in his celebrity and sought political influence. In the 1830s, the cause of abolition gained force. "From twelve white men in the basement of a Black church, through the efforts of workingmen and women, Black and white, and of dissenting ministers and argumentative college students," Hirshman writes, "the tendrils of immediate abolitionism began to spread throughout the North." Less than a decade after its founding in 1833, the American Anti-Slavery Society counted some 150,000 members. The Society voiced strong opposition to its rival organization, the American Colonization Society, which proposed to return Black Americans to Africa. Even within the Anti-Slavery Society, factions clashed. Some abolitionists opposed the expansion of slavery; some wanted complete abolition throughout the nation. Some, like Garrison, held that the Constitution allowed for slaveholding; Douglass vehemently disagreed. Viewing the abolitionist movement from a unique angle, Hirshman shows how the breakdown of the alliance among the three activists was fueled in part by Douglass' rising fame, burgeoning dissent among the nation's political parties, and, not least, Weston Chapman's aspersions about Douglass' work ethic and character. A well-researched history of the fraught path to emancipation. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.