The abolitionist Lydia Maria Child feared the effects of electing “a blot upon humanity.”
“I am not yet prepared to believe that the people of this republic are corrupt enough to choose by fair and honest votes, such a blot upon humanity as Andrew Jackson,” Lydia Maria Child wrote to her new mother-in-law in the early months after Jackson’s election in 1828. When I stumbled upon this letter among Child’s papers at Harvard, I felt a pang of sympathy. The sorrow and despair behind Child’s reluctance to accept her fellow citizens’ choice were all too familiar. She did not contest the election: the votes had been “fair and honest.” Why, then, did she call her fellow citizens “corrupt”?
Child was only twenty-six when Jackson was elected, but she was already an established author, well on her way to becoming a household name as a crusader for justice. Her 1824 novel Hobomok had propelled her to literary fame with its sympathetic account of the plight of native Americans. Her 1833 treatise An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans was so progressive in the cause of abolition and so scathing against northern racism that she was temporarily ostracized from Boston society. Undaunted, she followed the Appeal with The Evils of Slavery, and the Cure of Slavery and the Anti-Slavery Catechism, as well as newspaper columns, children’s stories, and novels all with abolitionist themes.
Those published writings give ample evidence of her convictions, but the box of letters in front of me provided a more personal view. In 1862, twenty-four years after she’d lamented Jackson’s election to her mother-in-law, Child was writing to her nephew William Haskins, then serving in the Fifty-first Massachusetts Regiment of the Union Army. (His brother, also enlisted, would die in the coming year.) By then, Child had penned any number of excoriating condemnations of slavery and diagnoses of its persistence. But the task here was different. How to describe to a young man whose life was on the line how it had come to this, that his country had engaged in an evil so radical that it required his life to right itself? Read More