Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Dawn D. Coleman

Committee Members

Katy Chiles, Martin Griffin, Chris Magra


“Moral Margins: Slavery and Capitalism in American Northern Literature, 1837-1900,” focuses on the intersections of slavery, capitalism, and literature, building on recent historical scholarship on the myriad ways slavery impacted the growth of American capitalism. Nowhere is this relationship more prominent than in the nineteenth century, when slavery experienced its highest levels of economic and political influence. Scholars of capitalism and American slavery have tended to focus on the South, the obvious locus of slavery, but little attention is paid to the North, where this relationship is more veiled. I argue that Northern literature shows the ethical complexities of slavery-based capitalism, affecting issues from the spread of industrialization to the rhetoric of wage labor. This is especially prominent within literature written by laborers, such as The Lowell Offering, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and Life in the Iron Mills, as well as texts written by advocates for Northern workers such as Rebecca Harding Davis, Martin Delany, and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps. ­Through readings of abolitionist and labor literature, my project shows how slavery and capitalism mutually influenced the ways that all Americans, no matter how distant they believed themselves to be from slaveholding plantations, re-conceived notions of ethics and identity through their market interactions.

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