Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Navigation

Abolition’s Public Sphere

2003
Author:

Robert Fanuzzi

Abolition’s Public Sphere

An innovative analysis of the Enlightenment’s effects on the anti-slavery movement

Robert Fanuzzi illustrates how the dissemination of abolitionist tracts served to create an “imaginary public” that promoted and provoked the discussion of slavery. He critically examines the writings of William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Henry David Thoreau, and Sarah and Angelina Grimke, and their massive abolition publicity campaign geared to an audience of white male citizens, free black noncitizens, women, and the enslaved.

Fanuzzi demonstrates the storied, nonactual nature of abolition's public sphere and raises important questions about the relation of fiction to the public critique of institutions and about the relations of imaginary institutions to the critique of the public sphere.

Russ Castronovo, author of Necro Citizenship: Death, Eroticism, and the Public Sphere in the Nineteenth Century United States

Echoes of Thomas Paine and Enlightenment thought resonate throughout the abolitionist movement and in the efforts of its leaders to create an antislavery reading public. In Abolition’s Public Sphere Robert Fanuzzi critically examines the writings of William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Henry David Thoreau, and Sarah and Angelina Grimke, and their massive abolition publicity campaign—pamphlets, newspapers, petitions, and public gatherings—geared to an audience of white male citizens, free black noncitizens, women, and the enslaved. Including provocative readings of Thoreau’s Walden and of the symbolic space of Boston’s Faneuil Hall, Abolition’s Public Sphere demonstrates how abolitionist public discourse sought to reenact eighteenth-century scenarios of revolution and democracy in the antebellum era.

Fanuzzi illustrates how the dissemination of abolitionist tracts served to create an “imaginary public” that promoted and provoked the discussion of slavery. However, by embracing Enlightenment abstractions of liberty, reason, and progress, Fanuzzi argues, abolitionist strategy introduced aesthetic concerns that challenged political institutions of the public sphere and prevailing notions of citizenship. Insightful and thought-provoking, Abolition’s Public Sphere questions standard versions of abolitionist history and, in the process, our understanding of democracy itself.

Abolition’s Public Sphere

Robert Fanuzzi is an associate professor of English at St. John’s University, New York.

Abolition’s Public Sphere

Fanuzzi demonstrates the storied, nonactual nature of abolition's public sphere and raises important questions about the relation of fiction to the public critique of institutions and about the relations of imaginary institutions to the critique of the public sphere.

Russ Castronovo, author of Necro Citizenship: Death, Eroticism, and the Public Sphere in the Nineteenth Century United States

Fanuzzi's theoretically informed genealogy of nineteenth-century civic culture promises to become required reading in graduate courses in American studies and African American studies.

Donald Pease, Avalon Professor of Humanities and Professor of English at Dartmouth College

Fanuzzi offers an astute contribution to post-Habermasian studies through his analysis of how abolitionists ‘mediated between and ideology restrictive version of the public sphere and a socially constituted counter public.’

American Literature

Fanuzzi’s study makes an important contribution to the field by demonstrating how central republican values were to the antebellum campaign against slavery. Even more compelling is the way Fanuzzi uses the aesthetic category of the sublime to analyze Douglass’s self-fashioning and audiences’s responses to him.

New England Quarterly

Abolition’s Public Sphere

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction: The Lessons of Repeated Experience

1. The Sedition of Nonresistance
2. Garrisonism and the Public Sphere
3. Frederick Douglass’s Public Body
4. Faneuil Hall: The Civic Institution of the Imaginary
5. Thoreau’s Civic Imagination
6. Douglass’s Sublime: The Art of the Slave

Conclusion: A Cosmopolitan Point of View

Notes

Index