Douglass’s Long Run

Maurice S. Lee

in Uncertain Chances

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199797578
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199932412 | DOI:
Douglass’s Long Run

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This chapter discusses how African-American authors participated in the probabilistic revolution. While early black Atlantic writers largely adhered to the providential outlook of Christian abolitionism, some later writers—most notably Douglass and the black intellectual James McCune Smith—deployed emerging sciences of chance to fight against slavery and racism. Douglass in his autobiographies and journalism moved away from providential rhetoric toward more empirical, quantitative antislavery arguments, aligning him with statistical sociology (Adolphe Quetelet), liberalism (John Stuart Mill), and pragmatism (the early Du Bois and, more surprisingly, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.). This chapter ends with a discussion of how pragmatism as traditionally conceived has failed to grapple sufficiently with the challenge of racism.

Keywords: Frederick Douglass; slavery; abolitionism; Black Atlantic; James McCune Smith; slave narratives; black press; liberalism; sociology

Chapter.  17420 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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