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The Meaning of Suicide in Antislavery Politics

The Meaning of Suicide in Antislavery Politics

(p.121) Chapter Six The Meaning of Suicide in Antislavery Politics
The Power to Die
Terri L. Snyder
University of Chicago Press

This chapter analyzes the motif of slave suicide in Anglo-America anti-slavery print, beginning with the The Dying Negro (1773) and through slave narratives of the antebellum period. Earliest abolitionists used suicide to attack very specific aspects of slavery: the legal ambiguities slave status in England, the ways in which slave owners existed above the law, or the brutality of the international slave trade. These materials also asserted that slave suicide was a response to specific harms: imminent transport, the Middle Passage, and familial separation led enslaved men and women's to commit despairing acts of self-destruction. In contrast to the earliest anti-slavery activism, later, antebellum abolitionism staked its claim on more radically expansive visions of racial equality as well as demands for slavery's ends, invoking ideas of natural rights although maintaining the earlier emphasis on patriarchal privilege. Suicide, then, came to represent a host of specific injuries caused by slavery.

Keywords:   slave narratives, The Dying Negro, anti-slavery activism, gender

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