Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Julie P. Winch

Second Advisor

Timothy Hacsi

Third Advisor

Vincent J. Cannato


New England’s popular role in American antebellum history has become one of a unified moral voice against slavery, a counterweight to the burgeoning strength of southern influence. This hagiographic image of New England, and Boston in particular, whitewashes the region’s initial resistance to abolitionism and the pains through which the movement rose to prominence in it. William Lloyd Garrison, the abolitionist leader and abiding moral instigator, nearly died at the hands of an anti-abolitionist mob in Boston in 1835. This study looks to show the means by which Garrison’s appeal ultimately resonated with his New England audience to transform the region’s attitude towards his movement. This thesis is divided into two sections, each of which addresses a primary current in Garrisonian abolitionism that allowed the movement to appeal to a New England audience.

The first section examines how Garrisonian abolitionism offered a new means of expressing a sense of New England civic pride. At a time when the region’s political influence had waned significantly, Garrison’s movement instead emphasized the need for New England to stand in the moral and cultural ascendancy of the nation. This thesis examines how this brought Garrisonian abolitionism into conflict with the Federalist Party, and how the movement reimagined the tenets of the American Revolution to craft its appeal.

The second section focuses on the spiritual elements of Garrisonian abolitionism. It explores the rise of liberal Christianity, particularly that of American Unitarianism, and its role in establishing the groundwork for Garrison’s religious appeal. This thesis explores how Garrisonian abolitionism, while primarily focused on the issue of slavery, grew into a perfectionist spiritual movement which encompassed an array of moral concerns. This thesis examines how New England’s religious climate was particularly well disposed to respond to Garrisonians’ radical messages.

The primary goal of this thesis is to show how Garrisonian abolitionism gave New Englanders a novel means of fulfilling both their religious and civic duties. It seeks to show how the Garrisonian appeal became compatible with New England ideals, overcoming labels of radicalism in order to move into the cultural mainstream.


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