Patterns of Antislavery among American Unitarians, 1831-1860by Douglas C. Stange

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  • Patterns of Antislavery among American Unitarians, 1831-1860 by Douglas C. StangeReview by: Ronald G. WaltersThe American Historical Review, Vol. 84, No. 1 (Feb., 1979), pp. 259-260Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Historical AssociationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1855864 .Accessed: 28/06/2014 11:17

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  • United States 259

    Indian policy in the early Southwest. Research in the Spanish archives revealed the Spaniards' grow- ing consciousness of Jackson as the principal threat to their position on the American border. For the Tennessee general early became convinced that the United States must acquire not only the Floridas but also Cuba, Texas, and eventually all of Spain's North American possessions.

    It was Jackson's almost superhuman determina- tion in the Creek War that opened the possibility; it was Jackson's brilliant defense of New Orleans that kept the possibility open (Remini persuasively revives the argument that defeat at New Orleans might have lost the whole Southwest); and it was Jackson's high-handedness in the First Seminole War that pushed the cautious Monroe administra- tion into supporting John Quincy Adams's trans- continental diplomacy resulting in the treaty of 18I9-21. In all of these episodes Jackson's military operations are described with greater clarity than any previous author has achieved.

    At the same time it was Jackson who forced upon the federal government a ruthless policy of driving native Americans from the Southwest to make way for white settlers. This was not just a matter of his bloody crushing of the Indians' abil- ity and will to resist. In addition, in person or through deputies, he negotiated the series of "treaties" whereby native Americans surrendered nearly all of their southwestern territories under the none-too-subtle threat of Jacksonian retribu- tion, supplemented by judicious bribery of the chiefs. In these treaties Jackson made Indian re- moval the ultimate objective of federal policy.

    My only caveat is the degree to which the anti- Indian bias of Remini's white sources has tinc- tured his prose. Native Americans are repeatedly referred to as "savages," albeit within quotation marks. They "butchered" settlers, perpetrated a "senseless massacre" at Fort Mims, and desisted only when "satiated by their savagery" (pp. 46, 190). On the other hand, says Remini, white atroc- ities must be viewed "in the context of the nine- teenth century," when "a powerful need existed throughout the country . . . to subdue the Indians and expel them from territory that was believed to be essential to national expansion and the defense of the country" (p. 340). However "disgraceful" some aspects of Jackson's Chickasaw treaty, "still they could not diminish the magnitude of the stu- pendous cession of land" (p. 340).

    All of this makes it easier to understand how Jackson emerged as such a formidable contender for the presidency just beyond the termination of the present volume. Remini's previous work has demonstrated his mastery of the technical inner history of domestic politics. Here he has demon- strated a broadened command of the geopolitical,

    military, and diplomatic factors involved in Ameri- can expansion. If his succeeding volume demon- strates a comparable mastery of the broad social and economic forces reflected in the politics that Jackson was to dominate, this will indeed be our Jackson biography for a long time to come.

    CHARLES SELLERS

    University of California, Berkeley

    DOUGLAS C. STANGE. Patterns of Antislavery among American Unitarians, i83i-i860. Cranbury, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. 1977. Pp. 308. $15.50.

    Douglas C. Stange's Patterns of Antislavery among American Unitarians, i83i-i860, treats an interesting problem. Although a fair number of important abolitionists were Unitarians, it seems as if there should have been more of them than there were. The sect, unlike most others, had no Southern branch of any consequence, and it was concen- trated in the antislavery strongholds of the North- east. Yet it was sluggish about taking a stand against slavery, much to the dismay both of re- formers and (by the mid-i840s) of European Uni- tarians. Stange seldom attempts to explain in depth the denomination's behavior or even to fol- low up on his own occasional suggestions about the relationship between abolitionism and Unitar- ian theology, class composition, and organiza- tional structure. Instead, he spends most of his time deploring the indifference of the majority and describing, with ample praise, the tribulations of the antislavery minority.

    Stange sorts Unitarian abolitionists, and all oth- ers, into three "patterns"-antislavery as "reli- gion," "philosophy," and "politics." Initially, ac- cording to him, these were relatively distinct positions, but they converged in the 185os. He weakens the argument, however, by devoting only a tenth of the text to events after 1850. In any case, the utility of these categories is open to question. Religion comprehends Garrisonian radicals; phi- losophy's exemplar is William Ellery Channing; and the last pattern includes everyone "who saw in power in politics the way to destroy slavery" (p. 36). This manner of dividing abolitionists often obscures more than it reveals, particularly when applied to important individuals like Lydia Maria Child or (to use a non-Unitarian example) Lewis Tappan. Such men and women were too extreme for philosophy, as Stange defines it, not terribly committed to politics, and often out of step with Garrison, even though every bit as religiously in- spired as he was. It is hard to see how Stange's groupings of abolitionists could be any more re-

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  • 260 Reviews of Books

    vealing than the ones commonly in use among historians.

    It is not that Stange lacked space for more rigor- ous analysis. His concern for biographical details and his sometimes overly vivid prose take attention away from the central question of the ties between Unitarianism and antislavery. For instance, he spends the best part of a paragraph in a needless defense of Maria Weston Chapman's beauty, a matter better treated in a clause. In another para- graph he spins out an elaborate image of Chan- ning as a conductor refusing abolitionism (the "drums and brass section") a "solo performance" in the "orchestra of morality" (p. 76). The imagi- nation behind such a passage would have been better directed toward a close examination of Uni- tarian denominational structure, a significant is- sue not confronted until long past the mid-point of the book.

    Such weaknesses in conception and execution diminish the value of Stange's work. The book does present useful information about particular abolitionists, but there is room for still other inter- pretations of Unitarianism and antislavery.

    RONALD G. WALTERS

    Johns Hopkins University

    J. MILLS THORNTON III. Politics and Power in a Slave Society: Alabama, i8oo-i86o. Baton Rouge: Louisi- ana State University Press. 1978. Pp. xxiv, 492. $22.50.

    J. Mills Thornton III has written a provocative book but a book that happily is not quite as pro- vocative as the book jacket suggests. The blurb informs us that "Thornton argues that slavery ... coexisted with and supported the democratic and egalitarian faith." Thornton argues, rather, that white Alabamians felt something like this. No doubt it is his failure to moralize about these senti- ments that misled one of his editors. Actually, one of the strengths of the book is its author's empathy with antebellum white Alabamians, which en- hances- his attempt "to place upon the reader the spectacles through which antebellum Alabamians peered out at their frightening world" (p. xvii). Some readers may be disconcerted at Thornton's failure to insert the adjective "white" before the phrase "antebellum Alabamians," for certainly it belongs there.

    In addition to being provocative, Thornton's book-which is a prize-winning adaptation of a doctoral dissertation of uncertain age-is opin- ionated, argumentative, overwritten, at times pre- tentious, learned, richly researched, and forcibly- if not always persuasively-argued. It is also full of nuance and any number of other good and not so good things. Very much like the fabled little girl, it

    displays most dissimilar traits, sometimes in its treatment of a single theme.

    Although the subtitle might suggest roughly equal treatment of a sixty-year period, the book devotes about two-thirds of its space to the I850s and almost all of the rest to the Jacksonian period. In view of the crucial and dramatic nature of that fateful decade, one can hardly fault Thornton for focusing on the i850S. Thornton regards few pre- vious accounts of the sectional crisis as satisfac- tory, impartially flaying neophytes and master his- torians alike for their wrongheadedness and their failure to interpret their data as he would have done. It is puzzling that he has failed to read David M. Potter's marvelous last book on that crisis, published more than two years ago. One wonders just when Thornton completed his study, in view of the almost total absence from his bibliography of publications of the 1970S and his reference to a book that came out in 1974 as "a work published after the completion of my present study" (p. 338).

    There are numerous flaws, in some cases glaring weaknesses, in Thornton's book, and by my read- ing its deficiencies clearly outnumber its good points. It is too full of unnecessarily long, turgid quotations from speeches, letters, and editorials, and it often generalizes about the alleged feelings of a group on the basis of no more than one or two such statements. Untranslated Latin terms are worn a mite too proudly on the author's sleeve, the text is sprinkled with "diachronically, " "dis- positive," "asseverations," and other terms of the sort that give scholarly discourse a reputation for preciosity. An alert editor might have eliminated Thornton's statement that "as the eunuch shapes the desires of the emperor, as the motion picture mogul gives direction to the tastes of the masses, to that extent, at least, politicians led the people of Alabama" (p. 162).

    The book is at times deterministic with a ven- geance, as, for example, in the statement that "the events of 1850 represent the natural consequence of the political order which we have described." It can be rigidly uncompromising in interpreting an event, such as the vote won by Zachary Taylor in Alabama or a mood or an idea, treating as though definitive the kind of judgment that a historian ought to know is arguable. Thornton tells us what Alabamians thought "without question" (p. 221). He at times strains both his evidence and his lan- guage to justify tenuous interpretations. To show that in the 185os events of unprecedented character transformed the mood of the people, Thornton, after artfully summarizing these events, writes: "dazed, indecisive, frightened, Alabama's masses stumbled towards the final crisis" (p. 306). Lud- dites roaming the hills and white Alabamians di- vorcing and murdering one another at higher rates than ever are invoked in a dubious exercise in

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    Article Contentsp. 259p. 260

    Issue Table of ContentsThe American Historical Review, Vol. 84, No. 1 (Feb., 1979), pp. i-xii+1-315+1(a)-58(a)Front Matter [pp. i-xi]The Renaissance and the Drama of Western History [pp. 1-15]Images of Power: Art and Pageantry in Renaissance Venice [pp. 16-52]Guild Republicanism in Trecento Florence: The Successes and Ultimate Failure of Corporate Politics [pp. 53-71]Humanists, Scientists, and Pliny: Changing Approaches to a Classical Author [pp. 72-85]Machiavelli, Guicciardini, and the Tradition of Vernacular Historiography in Florence [pp. 86-105]Reviews of BooksGeneralReview: untitled [p. 106]Review: untitled [pp. 107-108]Review: untitled [pp. 108-109]Review: untitled [pp. 109-110]Review: untitled [pp. 110-111]Review: untitled [pp. 111-112]Review: untitled [p. 112]Review: untitled [pp. 112-113]Review: untitled [pp. 113-114]Review: untitled [pp. 114-115]Review: untitled [pp. 115-116]Review: untitled [pp. 116-117]Review: untitled [pp. 117-118]Review: untitled [p. 118]Review: untitled [pp. 118-119]Review: untitled [pp. 119-120]Review: untitled [p. 120]Review: untitled [pp. 120-121]Review: untitled [pp. 121-122]Review: untitled [pp. 122-123]Review: untitled [pp. 123-124]Review: untitled [p. 124]Review: untitled [pp. 124-125]

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