British Unitarians and the crisis of American slavery, 1833-1865
The British Unitarians, a "sect everywhere spoken against" said Joseph Priestley, were a small, highly educated, financially respectable, politically aggressive and articulate denomination, which exerted an influence far beyond what their numbers ordinarily would command. They possessed an unbounded enthusiasm for reform and took part in almost every movement for social justice, one of which was particularly attractive to them the antislavery movement. Sadly, much of what they wrote and tried to accomplish has been ignored by scholars. This study is the story of their involvement in the thirty years war against the "master sin of the world" andndash; American slavery. In eight chapters, the thesis focuses on the antislavery writings opinions, and contributions of the British Unitarians, particularly a group of abolitionist stalwarts called Garrisonians. It also describes their racial views as revealed in their writings and in their conduct towards black people; and it describes their attitudes towards the American Civil War. The thesis is based on extensive manuscript, pamphlet, and periodical material, much of which has not been previously utilized in historical and religious monographs. The thesis makes several observations. The British Unitarians in their antislavery activity were devoted to the common welfare of the human race, to racial tolerance, and to participation in reform as an ecumenical endeavor. Their motivations for antislavery reform in particular, and reform in general, arose out of a liberal theology which sought to prove its moral superiority; a minority status and consciousness which sought acceptance; a strange and surprising evangelical warmth (typical of only some Unitarians and alien to the denomination as a body) that fired an emotive drive against social evils; a capitalist ideology that believed in a liberating progress; a political philosophy that favored freedom, honesty, and benevolence in government; a nationalism within an internationalism that proclaimed England's manifest destiny to be the protection and encouragement of human liberty at home and abroad; and a familial attachment to the members of their faith and reformers of their persuasion that was mutually supportive and rewarding. This study seeks to prove that the nineteenth century Unitarians are worthy of scholarly investigation and analysis, and suggests that the study of their motivation, commitment, vitality, and perseverance in the fight against American slavery can enhance our understanding of the role of religion in reform.