Anthony Benezet, Antislavery Rhetoric and the Age of Sensibility

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Anthony Benezet (1713–84) is familiar to historians of slavery, abolition, and Quakerism for his important role in disseminating Pennsylvanian Quaker antislavery to a wider and ecumenical audience. This article argues that an important reason for this success was Benezet’s considered deployment of a fashionable sentimental rhetoric, or rhetoric of sensibility, that allowed him to reach out to wide audiences and to engage them both through their reason and through their emotions. This strategy enhanced Benezet’s ability to encourage the Quaker discourse of antislavery, as it had developed over a century, to inform Atlantic discourses more widely. To support this argument, the article demonstrates that, in his time and for some time afterwards, Benezet was regarded by many as a man of feeling in terms familiar from contemporary sentimental literature. It concludes by closely reading a selection of passages from his antislavery writing to show that, while Benezet’s rhetoric was by no means purely sentimental, he nonetheless frequently had recourse to a rhetoric of sensibility which he deployed as a powerful tool in his campaign to alert the world to the evil of slavery.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-24
JournalQuaker Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jan 2017


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