Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Wendy Venet - Chair

Second Advisor

Dr. Glenn Eskew

Third Advisor

Dr. Charles Steffen


The work examines the antislavery writings of Francis Wayland (1796-1865). Wayland pastored churches in Boston and Providence, but he left his indelible mark as the fourth and twenty-eight year president of Brown University (1827-1855). The author of numerous works on moral science, economics, philosophy, education, and the Baptist denomination, his administration marked a transitional stage in the emergence of American colleges from a classically oriented curriculum to an educational philosophy based on science and modern languages. Wayland left an enduring legacy at Brown, but it was his antislavery writings that brought him the most notoriety and controversy. Developed throughout his writings, rather than systematically in a major work, his antislavery views were shaped and tested in the political and intellectual climate of the antebellum world in which he lived. First developed in The Elements of Moral Science (1835), he tested the boundaries of activism in The Limitations of Human Responsibility (1838), and publicly debated antislavery in Domestic Slavery Considered as a Scriptural Institution (1845). The political crisis from the Mexican-American War through the Kansas-Nebraska Act heightened Wayland’s activism as delineated in The Duty of Obedience to the Civil Magistrate (1847), his noncompliance with the Fugitive Slave Law, and his public address on the Kansas-Nebraska Bill (1854). In 1861 he became a committed Unionist. I argue that Francis Wayland was a mediating figure in the controversy between abolitionists and proslavery apologists and that his life was a microcosm of the transition that many individuals made from moderate antislavery to abolitionism. Wayland proved unique in that he was heavily coveted by Northern abolitionists who sought his unconditional support and yet he was respected by Southerners who appreciated his uncondemning attitude toward slaveholders even while he opposed slavery. I argue that Wayland’s transition from reluctant critic to public activist was not solely due to the political sweep of events, but that his latter activism was already marked in his earlier work. Most importantly, his life demonstrated both the limits and possibilities in the history of American antislavery.


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