By Kevin Pelletier
targeting various very important anti-slavery figures, together with David Walker, Nat Turner, Maria Stewart, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and John Brown, Apocalyptic Sentimentalism illustrates how antislavery discourse labored to redefine violence and vengeance because the final expression (rather than denial) of affection and sympathy. on the sametime, those warnings of apocalyptic retribution enabled antislavery writers to specific, albeit not directly, fantasies of brutal violence opposed to slaveholders. What begun as a sentimental approach quick turned an incendiary gesture, with antislavery reformers envisioning the entire annihilation of slaveholders and defenders of slavery.
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In turn, these violent acts are read by many of his supporters as clear expressions of Brown’s sympathetic affection for slaves. Much like the example of paulus with which I opened this book, where God’s vengeance is understood to be a clear indication of his love for the oppressed, John Brown’s violence in Virginia (and in Kansas) is seen to be the true sign of his loving heart and the reason he can be so easily regarded by supporters as a sentimental figure. At the same time that John Brown constitutes the apotheosis of apocalyptic sentimentalism, his actions also precipitated the erosion of this discourse as well, as some supporters struggled to balance his violent acts with his loving words.
Rather, it is a strategy to hasten the end, an end that is often achieved 20 Introduction with the killing of slaveholders and white Americans who support slavery. I term this form of religious force “messianic” to distinguish it from the revolutionary tradition and to signal that this type of violent expression cannot always be easily accommodated to a liberal, secular, post-Enlightenment worldview. Moreover, the violent actors I consider do not conform to modern scholarly assumptions about black revolutionary resistance—autonomy and rational selfdetermination being chief among them.
I examine these figures principally to challenge some of the prevailing assumptions about the operations of sentimentality in the nineteenth century and to demonstrate that terror is a foundational affect within the sentimental tradition. In part 1, I investigate the ideological origins of apocalyptic sentimentalism within antislavery thought, beginning with David Walker and Nat Turner, two figures rarely, if ever, associated with the nineteenth-century culture of sentiment. I open with Walker’s Appeal and Turner’s Confessions because these texts exert a powerful influence on how apocalyptic sentimentality will be understood by later sentimental thinkers and writers.