JOURNAL OF THE EARLY REPUBLIC (Fall 2012) Polemical Pain: Slavery, Cruelty, and the Rise of Humanitarianism. By Margaret Abruzzo. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011. Pp. 330. Cloth, $55.00.) Reviewed by Amanda B. Moniz Margaret Abruzzo's thought-provoking study of the moral language of humanitarianism in mid-eighteenth- to mid-nineteenth-century America began with her wondering how anyone could have opposed humaneness. The answer, it turned out, was that by the mid nineteenth century just about no one did. While there was a broad commitment to benevolence, Americans were deeply divided about the nature and obligations of philanthropy, that is, love of mankind. Did observed cruelty provoke humane responses or desensitize viewers? Was pain caused by action or inaction? Did benevolence properly rest on disinterestedness or self-interest? Americans debated these questions as they argued over slavery. In the eighteenth century, slave suffering ``had little moral bearing on the slavery question'' (5). By the mid nineteenth century, it mattered greatly, with both proponents and opponents of antislavery invoking their compassion and charging the other side with callousness. Ranging widely through sources from Quaker epistles and moral philosophers' essays to the correspondence, organizational records, and publications of slaveholders and slavery haters, Abruzzo
Journal of the Early Republic – University of Pennsylvania Press
Published: Aug 13, 2012
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