Puritan Spirits in the Abolitionist Imagination

Kenyon Gradert

Puritan Spirits in the Abolitionist Imagination

Kenyon Gradert

Publication supported by the Bevington Fund

256 pages | 2 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2020
Cloth $50.00 ISBN: 9780226694023 Will Publish April 2020
E-book $50.00 ISBN: 9780226694160 Will Publish April 2020
The Puritans of popular memory are dour figures, characterized by humorless toil at best and witch trials at worst. Calling someone a Puritan is an insult reserved for prudes, prigs, or oppressors. Our American abolitionist forebears, however, would be shocked to hear this. In the decades before the Civil War, abolitionists fervently embraced the idea that Puritans were in fact pioneers of revolutionary dissent, and invoked their name and ideas as part of their anti-slavery crusade.

Puritan Spirits in the Abolitionist Imagination reveals how the leaders of the nineteenth-century abolitionist movement—from landmark figures like Ralph Waldo Emerson to scores of lesser-known writers and orators— drew upon the Puritan tradition to shape their politics and personae. In a striking instance of selective memory, reimagined aspects of Puritan history proved to be potent catalysts for abolitionist minds. Black writers lauded slave rebels as new Puritan soldiers, female antislavery militias in Kansas were cast as modern Pilgrims, and a direct lineage of radical democracy was traced from these early New Englanders through the American and French revolutions to the abolitionist movement, deemed a “Second Reformation” by some. Kenyon Gradert recovers a striking influence on abolitionism and recasts our understanding of puritanism, often seen as a strictly conservative ideology, averse to the worldly rebellion championed by abolitionists.
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