Sunday, December 1, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 204: Lucretia Mott, No Greater Joy Than to See These Children Walking in the Anti-Slavery Path (#204)

Lucretia Mott, "No Greater Joy Than to See These Children Walking in the Anti-Slavery Path" (1864) from American Antislavery Writings: Colonial Beginnings to Emancipation:

This is Lucretia Mott's speech from an 1863 anti-slavery convention; and we lose a little context in not hearing the other speakers at that convention. At least once, Mott makes a direct reference to something that was said in a speech and the remarks made in answer to that speech. All that is not here. What we do have, however, is a short speech that happens to name-check some very early abolitionists and also extend a welcoming hand to new abolitionists; a speech that recognizes the main task of abolishing slavery, while also nodding at the future quests: equality for blacks and equality for women.

In fact, I thought Mott dealt with the issue of women very generously, noting

  • Women may have some special understanding of those who are denied their natural rights
    • "We might, as women, dwell somewhat upon our own restrictions, as connected with this Anti-Slavery movement.";
  • That those rights are not replaceable with chivalrous attention, as when some abolitionist women went to an anti-slavery convention in London and learned that "persons" did not include women; and where they received "flattery in lieu of our rights";
  • But that she would pass on without delving too deeply into the woman question.
Classic Mott, am I right?

But the overwhelming message here is that there's so much more still to do: "we should keep on our armor." Which also gives us part of the title of this piece: the old-time abolitionists have done some of the work, but the future struggles are for the new activists. And what about those johnny-come-latelys--the people who used to make fun of or not join in with the "radical" abolitionists, who have now come over? In 1863, with the Civil War on, this seems like a sightly hopeful question to ask. But Mott's answer is also very hopeful: we should "welcome them at this eleventh hour" and give them all the praise that's due to them--if they pitch in and do their work.

Now, the LoA page notes that Mott was a little too optimistic and that the abolitionist movement would splinter over many issues (including the issue of equality for women); but I don't know if I can fault Mott for her optimism, which seems measured against the enormity of the struggles to come.

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