Blogs > Liberty and Power > More on Stephen Foster (1809-91):

Apr 26, 2007 2:15 pm

More on Stephen Foster (1809-91):

I want to thank David Bieto for bringing Stephen S. Foster and his REVOLUTION THE ONLY REMEMDY FOR SLAVERY (1855) to our attention in a previous post. Foster's attitude toward VIOLENT revolution was a bit more equivocal than David suggests, however. Among antebellum abolitionists, he is best known for his extreme "come-outerism," in which he would disrupt church services to protest slavery, sometimes suffering beatings and imprisonment as a result. Like William Lloyd Garrison, Foster was an opponent of the Constitution and an advocate of disunion, as well as a pacifist. Yet by the mid-1850s he was defending non-resistance on only strategic grounds for himself and argued to his fellow abolitionists that it was perfectly consistent to urge slaves and others to use deadly force in self-defense. He therefore endorsed Lysander Spooner's and John Brown's advocacy of slave revolts. But he was more absorbed in promoting Gerrit Smith's Radical Abolition Party as an alternative to the Republicans.

During the Civil War, Foster was the most prominent of fifteen abolitionists who signed the antiwar "Standing Protest of the New England Non-Resistant Abolitionists." He was married to the better-known Abby Kelley, a founder of the women's movement. Kelley was subsequently written out of feminist history by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton because of her Garrisonian hostility to voting, which continued even after the Civil War ended, while the feminist movement generally became almost exclusively obsessed with women's suffrage.

More details on Stephen Foster can be found scattered in Dorothy Sterling, AHEAD OF HER TIME: ABBY KELLEY AND THE POLITICS OF ANTISLAVERY (New York: W. W. Norton, 1991); Lewis Perry, RADICAL ABOLITIONISM: ANARCHY AND THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD IN ANTISLAVERY THOUGHT (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1973); and Richard H. Sewell, BALLOTS FOR FREEDOM: ANTISLAVERY POLITICS IN THE UNITED STATES, 1837-1860 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1976).

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David T. Beito - 4/28/2007

How did he stand on other issues such as economics and property rights? Abby Kelley certainly deserves more attention. Has anyone studied the reasons for the shift pro-suffrage feminism after the Civil War? the irony, of course, is that women's suffrage became more popular, votes for blacks became less so (among whites). Interestingly, my sense is that Stanton was pretty individualist on other issues but could be wrong.