I suppose somewhat predictably, my recent blog post critiquing the history of the group “Abolish Human Abortion” (AHA) has resulted in quite the debate, ranging from the interesting to the bizarre. (One AHA member informed me that, “I do think your blog was inspired by God, to expose you as an anti-abolitionist.” Whatever that means.) T. Russell Hunter has released several YouTube videos to address my arguments as well as commenting on various strings. This short blog post will be to respond to his rebuttal of my argument, while attempting to refrain from comments on the sandwich he ate while making the video.
First, to give credit where credit is due: Mr. Hunter has said that he will amend the part of the AHA website where he states that “Pro-lifers prefer gradual, over immediate, abolition” to “pro-lifers focus on gradual, over immediate abolition,” admitting that we do indeed prefer total abolition and that the disagreement at hand concerns strategy, not motive. That is appreciated.
The rest of the videos, sandwich-consumption aside, was disjointed, confusing, and hosted a veritable army of straw men. First, he mentions my hyperlink of a Wikipedia page on abolitionism, placed there merely to highlight that even a generic overview of historical abolitionism highlights many different groups, strategies, and ideologies, was a weak source and somehow the crux of my argument, rather than incidental. He claims that I somehow compare AHA to John Brown or insinuate that they are “John Brownish,” which I’m certainly not doing (they have a whole section on their website explaining how their tactics are non-violent.) I’m merely pointing out that John Brown was, by every historical standard, an abolitionist, and yet engaged in tactics that we would all agree should be rejected. He also says that I called Abraham Lincoln an abolitionist, which I did not—I pointed out that he was a wildly successful incrementalist who was instrumental in ensuring the political success of the movement to end slavery.
In the rest of his 37 minutes of video, Mr. Hunter doesn’t actually rebut a single thing I say. He notes, accusingly, that I do not dedicate space to American abolitionists such as Wendell Phillips or William Lloyd Garrison, both staunch immediatists and both abolitionists who condemned practices such as sending freed slaves off to colonies in Africa as well as any compromise with slave holders. I don’t cite these examples because the point of my post was to highlight my disagreements with AHA, not my agreement. Their characterization of Garrisonian abolitionism is an accurate one—my oft-repeated point is that Garrisonian abolitionism is merely one strain, and that to take tenets of this strain and attempt to apply it to all abolitionist movements is historical nonsense.
Mr. Hunter also points out something that I have been pointing out about their historical characterizations for some time: that abolitionism in the American context differed greatly from abolitionism in the British context. Absolutely true, and evidence of why attempting to standardize the term abolitionist (as AHA does, evidenced by their constant social media postings and web postings announcing who is, and who is not, an abolitionist) is, as I wrote before, historical revisionism. Mr. Hunter attempts to say that he is “not the arbiter of who is and who is not an abolitionist,” which I agree whole-heartedly with, but he still spends a remarkable amount of time trying to differentiate between his group and various pro-life groups.
Mr. Hunter’s monologue on the difference between the British and the American abolitionist movements highlights a very interesting fact: AHA is a Garrisonian abolitionist group, not one that follows the British model. He attempts to claim that banning the slave trade while putting off the full emancipation of the slaves was not “incrementalist” and is different from some pro-life tactics because it was not “dehumanizing,” as if fighting for legislation that didn’t free slaves perishing on West Indies plantations but merely ceased their purchase and transportation wasn’t working within a corrupt system in order to undermine and eventually defeat that system. He says that when I highlight Olaudah Equiano’s support for a regulatory bill, I admit that “the abolitionists opposed it,” which is not at all what I said. I said, and history says, that some of the abolitionists supported it and some opposed it. Which was my point about incremental legislation in the first place: Some abolitionists supported it, some opposed it. (As an aside, when Mr. Hunter highlights a politician who opposed Wilberforce’s call for the immediate abolition of the slave trade and instead called for “gradual” abolition and compares this to the difference between pro-lifers and his group, he is forgetting that this comparison doesn’t work: That was a disagreement among politicians, not activists.)
Of the three points I made in my blog post: that attempting to narrowly define an abolitionist is ridiculous in the historical context, that abolitionists have (successfully) and can support incremental strategies, and that pro-lifers do not prefer gradual abolition so much as seek to undermine a corrupt system to hasten its fall, the first two points stand untouched. Mr. Hunter has further elucidated his own position, which is clearly that he falls within the Garrisonian strain of abolitionism. He has not, however, rebutted my historical statements whatsoever, in spite of various attempts to misread, misquote, and create false admissions in much of what I say. Mr. Hunter and his people are free to engage in whatever type of abolitionism they prefer. They simply cannot claim that it is the only kind, and that history in any way back their exclusivist claims.