Certainty, crisis, compromise : the abolitionists of the liberator circle, 1860-1863.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This thesis examines the abolitionist community that corresponded through the weekly abolitionist periodical The Liberator, organised into four different circles of the Liberator Circle, over the years 1860-1863. Chief editor William Lloyd Garrison, notable agitator Wendell Phillips, editor Charles Whipple, and their coadjutors in the Liberator Circle, believed that political abolition was impossible because the entire political system was founded on the proslavery compromise of the Constitution. Furthermore, it was impossible to take an uncompromising moral stand as a politician, for achieving consensus within any given party, as well as with the opposition, required compromise, as defined by George Santayana in Character and Opinion in the United States. Garrison and his coadjutors in the Liberator Circle fervently refused to compromise over the evil of slavery, and demanded immediate abolition through the anti-political means of northern disunion. This thesis argues that from 1860 to 1863 Garrison and the majority of the Liberator Circle compromised their ideal means of anti-political abolition and accepted the political abolition of the Emancipation Proclamation. The Circle’s process of accepting political means was not immediate, as revisionist and post-revisionist historiography suggests. Rather, it occurred over three distinct periods: Certainty, from 1860 to Abraham Lincoln’s election on November Eighth, Crisis, from Lincoln’s election to the bombardment of Fort Sumter on April Fourteenth 1861, and Compromise, from Fort Sumter to the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, January First 1863. Each of these periods align with a change in the masthead slogan of the Liberator, and represent different challenges to the identity of the Liberator Circle. This thesis analyses Garrison and his coadjutors’ path to compromise and what effect it had on the activist community of the Liberator Circle.