Though seldom studied, advocates of "free produce," or abstinence from the products of slave labor, were the radical conscience of American abolitionism, leading the call for immediate emancipation, embracing interracial organizing, and promoting moral suasion through exemplary behavior. Following successful eighteenth-century boycotts, British Quaker Elizabeth Heyrick argued in 1824 that a movement advancing free produce could quickly end slavery. Linking the sins of the consumer with the sins of the slaveholder, American advocates of free produce urged fellow abolitionists to renounce all contact with human bondage. Often portrayed as ineffectual purists committed to individual salvation, supporters in fact promoted free labor through practical measures like stores and associations. While William Lloyd Garrison and other abolitionists rejected the boycott in the 1840s, women like Lucretia Mott and African Americans like Henry Highland Garnet continued to urge the use of free produce until the Civil War. Activist women emphasized free produce as a matter of ideological consistency and moral responsibility. For black abolitionists, experiments in free cotton and sugar production contributed to their growing interest in emigration in the 1850s. While the movement never gained enough adherents to destroy slavery, its continuing popularity among the most radical and diverse group of abolitionists suggests that anti-slavery, like many other liberation movements, depended upon such symbolic sacrifices.
Journal of the Early Republic – University of Pennsylvania Press
Published: Sep 13, 2007
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