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Stauffer Provides Insight into the Vision John Brown and his Cohort of Radical Abolitionists had for Fulfilling their Religious and Secular Desires to Emancipate American Slaves
In The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race, John Stauffer examines how an interracial quartet of abolitionists seeks to motivate a nation to a paradigm shift on the issues of racial prejudice and slavery. The book takes the reader through the personal journeys of John Brown, Frederick Douglass, James McCune Smith, and Gerrit Smith as they set forth to destroy the notion of white supremacy. Stauffer deviates from his contemporaries' secular scholarship on this social movement and examines these men's Bible politics and their notion of racial inequality being counter to the plan for God's Kingdom. He chronicles both their faith and politics. Stauffer shows that four men from diverse backgrounds were able to work together because of their shared "beliefs in freedom, equality, democracy, and the very idea that slavery was a sin." (5)Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Despite the inclusion of copious notes, The Black Hearts of Men is written with a literary flair that makes it appealing outside of academia. The text opens with a radical call to arms examining the first, and likely only time, Brown, Douglass, McCune Smith, and Smith, were all together at one time: the inaugural convention of Radical Abolitionists in Syracuse in June 1855. Here Stauffer sets the cosmic stage for the quartet's attempts to change the minds of a nation. From the outset, Stauffer establishes that these men were not opposed to violence.
These Radical Abolitionists were apocalyptic theorists who strived for a millennial kingdom on earth free of racial prejudice. They felt called by God to fight for the rights of their African brothers. They believed violence and blood shed were acceptable measures to attain the perfect kingdom. They utilize the Christian rhetoric of blood washing away sin to justify the means. Douglass's enthusiasm shows in his proclamation that the scar on his face, which resulted from a fight with his Master Covey, was the mark of God in the shape of a cross. (59) McCune Smith declared that Smith "must have been inspired by God" to provide land to free blacks. "To God be the glory, Who, through this human instrument [Gerrit Smith] has been pleased to open to us a 'land of promise' in the midst of the land of oppression."(144) Brown, Douglass, McCune Smith, and Smith clearly saw divine intervention in their abolitionary acts.
While Brown, with varying degrees of support from the other, undeniably set in motion the panic and violence that led to the Civil War, the interracial quartet failed to shift the racial paradigm of the nation. Stauffer draws together the social climate, political players, and events that brought this interracial quartet together in an effort to change racial views and the forces that tore them apart. In the end only Brown and McCune Smith held true to their Biblical politics.
Throughout the book Stauffer weaves together vignettes of each of the Radical Abolitionist's biography with concurrent events. He aptly ties together the whereabouts and philosophy of each man while bringing in other powerful abolitionists. This technique works to build a chronology and an understanding of Brown, Douglass, McCune Smith, and Smith in their own time. With the exclusion of the chapter on feminism, the book provides an evocative look at the transformation of four men's views, and their attempts to shape the views of others regarding slavery and racial prejudice.