The Founders: The Cost of Freedom

The quasi-free status many northern black men and women faced meant that they could not enjoy the full privileges of being a citizen in America. These privileges include (but are not limited to) access to public spaces like parks and schools, judicial protections and property law, and the right to gather without white sponsorship. There was little distinction amongst northern and southern attitudes about race and black people. The distinction was in the methods utilized to control and disenfranchise black people. Laws called Black Codes passed northern state legislatures that restricted black access to larger society and perpetuated stereotypes of white supremacy. However, the north was not economically dependent on slavery. Additionally, ideas from the French Revolution and Christianity made it difficult to reconcile the need to own human property. Women like Stewart and men like Douglass challenged the notion that you could not have black people survive outside of the institution of slavery. All of these factors played into the growth of the abolitionist movement and gave both authors context in which to frame their arguments. Stewart highlights this in an essay she penned that was published in William Lloyd Garrison’s newspaper The Liberator in 1831:

“Are not their wives, their sons, and their daughters, as dear to them as those of the white man’s? Certainly God has not deprived them of the divine influences of his Holy Spirit, which is the greatest of all blessings, if they ask him. Then why should man any longer deprive his fellow-man of equal rights and privileges? Oh, the cloud that hangs over thee. Thou art almost become drunken with the blood of her slain; thou hast enriched thyself through her toils and labors; and now thou refuseth to make even a small return. And thou hast caused the daughters of Africa to commit whoredoms and fornications; but upon thee be their curse… you may have publish, as far as the east is from the West, that you have two millions of negroes, who aspire no higher than to bow at your feet and to court your smiles. You may kill, tyrannize, and oppress as much as you choose, until our cry shall come up before the throne of God…”

Stewart makes it obvious that she has researched and studied the Bible and other texts to make her arguments. She speaks about America’s hypocrisy in foreign policy and the refusal to acknowledge Haiti as a free country. She is already beginning to draw the lines of African diaspora. Additionally, she points out that the black men and women that have grown indifferent to God have done so because of a lack of knowledge. She pushes even further encouraging black women “God will require strict account of you… You must create young minds thirsty for knowledge and purity” (35). Her insistence that black people participate actively in their salvation is balanced with her knowledge that black people are not at fault for their current circumstances. She acknowledges the need to free both the mind and the body of black people:

“Tell us no more of southern slavery; for with for with few exceptions, although I may be very erroneous in my opinion, yet I consider our condition but little better than that. Yet, after all, methinks there are no chains so galling as those that bind the soul, and exclude it from the vast field of useful and scientific knowledge” (45).

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