Slavery, Race, and Free Speech

in The War on Words

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print July 2010 | ISBN: 9780226294131
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226294155 | DOI:
Slavery, Race, and Free Speech

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  • Literary Studies (19th Century)


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This part of the book reasserts the importance of historical change by taking up the suggestion that the nexus of slavery, race, and free speech yielded two quite opposed types of stories. The stories correspond to two different ideas of “free speech.” The concept of discursive liberty did not remain constant throughout the century. In the romantic or antebellum period, it signified prophecy, active intervention, and political agency. Conscious of handling explosive ingredients, those who decried slavery's wrongs often framed their words as the deliberate supplanting of an obsolete or enervated textuality. Lincoln fearlessly inveighed against the slave system's transgressions, but one feels that he could not quite believe in the probable impact of his eloquence. This part of the book also explores the right to free speech and intellectual freedom in the mid-nineteenth century and looks at the makers of the American Renaissance, who may have stood on the political sidelines for many, or, in some cases, all of the antebellum years, but they could not insulate themselves from the crusade to censor speech.

Keywords: slavery; free speech; race; American renaissance; reconstruction; Abraham Lincoln; Stephen A. Douglas

Chapter.  11926 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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