Maria Stewart in Revolutionizing Abolitionism
Maria Stewart in Revolutionizing Abolitionism           In the early to mid-Nineteenth, many nations, including the United States, began forbidding its citizens to partake in the international slave trade.  However, this progress did very little to change the conditions for those already enslaved in America. At a time where a glimmer of hope was provided, many abolitionists seized the opportunity to call upon their fellow black people for a moral, political, and economic revolution.  Rather than adopting the fiery thoughts of David Walker’s Appeal urging African Americans to a militant and inflammatory uprising, Maria W. Stewart took a distinctive approach from her mentor. In a highly controversial message coming from a black woman, Stewart urges the “daughters of Africa” to develop their intellects, and advocates an establishment of educational and economical institutions within African American communities in her culturally regenerative works.  In addition, Stewart also alludes to the Bible, and the Constitution of the United States in her message to both blacks and whites to help provide a shared vocabulary that challenges the common struggle in maintaining dignity amongst the ongoing violence and degradation many African Americans faced at that time.          In a manner unprecedented at the time, Stewart defies the norm by not only focusing on a revolution for black people, but for women as well.  In her “Lecture Delivered at Franklin Hall” Stewart argued, “Let our girls possess whatever amiable qualities of soul they may; let their characters be fair and spotless as innocence itself; let their natural taste and ingenuity be what they may; it is impossible for scarce an individual of them to rise above the condition of servants” (“Lecture Delivered…” 184).  In this declaration, she argues that no matter how virtuous they are, the confinement of servitude and harsh work conditions placed on women of color will never allow them to be ladies. Through this, Stewart provokes African American women to break free of servitude, and push themselves to much greater aspirations surpassing the ideals of equality of even her mentor, Walker. Stewart calls on white women as well when she implores, “O, ye fairer sisters, whose hands are never soiled, whose nerves and muscles are never strained, go learn by experience…Had it been our lot to have been nursed in the lap of affluence and ease, and to have basked beneath the smiles and sunshine of fortune, should we not have naturally supposed that we were never made to toil?Have pity upon us, have pity upon us, o ye who have hearts to feel for other woes…” (“Lecture Delivered…” 185).  In this bitter tinged plea, Stewart chooses words to appeal to the empathetic nature of women.  She calls for white women to recognize the limitations and degradation imposed on other females simply because of their color. Best summarized by Jennifer Garcia’s dissertation, “Stewarts acts of defiance–as the first public representation of Black Feminism: demanding that white America end slavery and grant rights to black men and women, re-appropriating the hegemonic, patriarchal codes which have significant social power by exposing their inconsistencies and deconstructing their ideologies, voicing the truth about the status of African-American women in early nineteenth-century America” (Garcia).           Furthermore, Stewart emphasizes the importance of education in her published essays and speeches.  In her address “Why Sit Ye here and Die?” she insists when “knowledge would begin to flow…the chains of slavery and ignorance would melt like wax before flames” (“Why Sit…”). Unlike many black abolitionists who called for rioting and rebellion amongst their fellow black people to dissolve oppression, Stewart’s fresh approach argued that faith and knowledge would aid people of color in proving their worthiness. This alternative to violence is further developed when she writes, “Far be it from me to recommend to you either to kill, burn, or destroy. But I would strongly recommend to you to improve your talents; let not one lie buried in the earth. Show forth your powers of mind. Prove to the world that though black your skins as shades of night, your hearts are pure, your souls are white” (“From Religion…” 182).  These words coincide with Stewart’s commitment in using the power of knowledge and morality as a means to truly become free and successful.           Lastly, but certainly not least, Stewart uses Christianity consistently through her work in the fight for reform.  She urges black readers to develop their God-given capabilities and establish self-worth.  Often alluding to texts in the Bible to strengthen her argument for equality, Stewart writes “He hath formed and fashioned you in his glorious image, made you to have dominion over the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, and the fish of the sea.[1] He hath crowned you with glory and honor; hath made you but a little lower than the angels[2]” (“From Religion” 183).  By using direct versus from the Bible, Stewart is able to create a relatable argument as to why blacks were no different than whites in the eyes of God.  Through her work, she challenged the morality of Christian followers who did not call for equality amongst all races and people.  She then declares, “according to the Constitution of the United States, he hath made all men free and equal. Then why should one worm say to another, ‘Keep you down there, while I sit up yonder, for I am better than thou?’[3]” (“From Religion” 183).  Here Stewart suggests the U.S. government is hypocritical for recognizing the equality in theory, but not in practice. Ultimately, Stewart uses Christianity to both spark an inspirational movement amongst blacks, and to support her religious and political agenda of parity.             Through her political activism, Stewart revolutionized the abolitionist movement.  Her works consistently identified the importance of morality, the importance for the black community to excel, and for people to resolve the barriers preventing both blacks and black women from advancing. In her quest for black political regeneration, Stewart fought to create a new sense of unification, not just for people of color, but for women as a whole.

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Maria Stewart And Fellow Black People. (April 3, 2021). Retrieved from