This presentation will trace the rise and fall of America’s first abolition movement, made up of a coalition of white and Black activists during the three decades following the American Revolution. In the process, it will recover the comprehensive agenda for Black freedom and equality of “first movement abolitionism” and the factors that led to its historical marginalization. While historians have long considered the five decades from the 1830s to the 1870s as integral to histories of race, rights, and reform in the United States, this presentation will argue that it is time they did the same for the years stretching from the 1780s through the 1820s.
Paul J. Polgar is an assistant professor of history at the University of Mississippi, where he researches and teaches on slavery, race, and emancipation in the United States and the broader Atlantic World. His first book, Standard-Bearers of Equality: America’s First Abolition Movement, was published in 2019 by the University of North Carolina Press. Professor Polgar is now at work on two projects, including a co-edited collection of essays that will reexamine the emergence of racial slavery in the Atlantic World, and a sole-authored second book project that will explain anew the emergence in the Reconstruction era of a broad electoral coalition in support of a pathbreaking expansion of Black civil and political rights.