Challenging exclusionist principles based on race and gender.

Within the political discourse of women’s antislavery societies that appeared first in Britain and subsequently in the United States at the beginning of the nineteenth century, they articulated that the first and foremost aim of their activity was to disseminate more correct information about the system of slavery and how it operated on the whole of society. These women were engaged in the movement for the “immediate abolition” of slavery, a term which was coined by British Quaker Elizabeth Heyrick (1769-1831) who had modeled it after the term “immediate revelation” that was connected to the religious terminology of Quakerism since the seventeenth century.

The immediatists’ goal was to turn the tide of public opinion against slavery by exposing its real nature. They characterized it as an institution of legalized robbery and oppression, a “republican despotism” based on the abuse of republican liberty.

According to the women engaged in antislavery, this abuse was inherently domestic in its nature, because it teared apart the very foundations on which human society was built, producing a Hobbesian state of “nature warring against itself”.

“The immediatists’ goal was to turn the tide of public opinion against slavery by exposing its real nature

The women’s main strategy was to point out the role of societal prejudices in the up-keeping of the system of slavery. In their view prejudices were not natural, but stemmed from slavery itself, which the women associated with a patriarchal system to which they themselves were subjected to. They listed, amongst the crimes committed against the enslaved by the system, the deprivation of their right to own property, much less to own themselves, because their bodies, labour, and reproductive capacities were property to another. There are overlaps between the antislavery women’s arguments with Mary Wollstonecraft’s political philosophy and her arguments in favour of “self-ownership”, on which Immediatism, following late seventeenth-century contestations of mind-body dualism by proto-feminist writers like Lady Anne Conway (1631-1679), built its conceptional framework.

Following immediatist logic, black female abolitionists like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825-1911) took a step further by pointing to the biopolitical dynamic of enslavement, and the subsequent sensual trauma that came with it, because what was taken from the enslaved was nothing short of the jurisdiction over the function of their own senses. The slave mother, for example, was denied the ability to embrace her own child. At the same time abolitionists and women suffragists emphasized black women’s role as active shapers of a new generation that would leave behind the social degradation associated with the system of slavery.

Antebellum antislavery women emphasised that they regarded themselves as “bound with the enslaved” by pledging themselves to the tactics of “non-resistance” that were inspired by the Quaker peace testimony, and exercised through performance strategies based on the practice of “mental metempsychosis” (Elizabeth M. Chandler), by which was meant the mental placing of oneself into the enslaved’s situation.

“The slave mother was denied the ability to embrace her own child

They described their engagement as enactment of a “moral revolution” that would do away with all abuse founded upon prejudices. The coming of the American civil war meant that the peaceful abolition of slavery was unsuccessful. However, the abolitionists’ non-resistance tactics had carried the day, since the Southern slaveholders were now stigmatised as the aggressors.

My project engages with the question of how the conceptional framework of Immediatism came into being and how it influenced our conception of modern democracy.

“The coming of the American civil war meant that the peaceful abolition of slavery was unsuccessful