A Revolution of the Soul: Transformative Experiences and Immediate Abolition

Michael P. Young

in Passionate Politics

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2001 | ISBN: 9780226303987
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226304007 | DOI:
A Revolution of the Soul: Transformative Experiences and Immediate Abolition

Show Summary Details


During the 1830s, organized efforts to abolish slavery in the United States experienced a sea change. From 1832 to 1838 an estimated one hundred twenty thousand Northerners rallied around calls for the immediate emancipation of slaves and rejected schemes for the gradual abolition of slavery. This movement challenged the arguments of Protestant benevolent societies that African–Americans should be colonized in Liberia, and it demanded a commitment to racial equality within the United States. Why did this radical shift in antislavery occur in the 1830s? Why did the uncompromising message of immediate abolition gain the following of a vocal and committed minority at this time? This chapter argues that this change in the course of antislavery, and its timing, cannot be faithfully tracked by standard social movement theories. The dramatic conversion of activists to radical and immediate abolitionism requires an appreciation of the emotional resonance of a tight set of moral claims that triggered personal transformations and motivated bold collective action. It requires explaining how slavery managed to shock evangelicals in the 1830s in the ways it did and also how it could not just a generation earlier. This explanation must account for the development of a historically new religious temperament and emotional culture. Immediatism sparked emotional commitments in young evangelicals who came of age in the 1830s because it resonated with a broader pattern of affective commitments: a pattern unique to the generations of evangelicals born after the American Revolution.

Keywords: antislavery; emancipation; racial equality; United States; social movement; abolitionism; evangelicals

Chapter.  6541 words. 

Subjects: Social Movements and Social Change

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.