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Innovation, espace et culture dans le monde anglo-saxon

Innovation as moral victory: Henry Blackwell and sugar

L’innovation, une victoire morale : Henry Blackwell et le sucre
Hélène Quanquin
p. 220-233

Résumé

L’article suivant est une étude des tentatives d’innovation faites par le réformiste américain Henry Blackwell dans le secteur sucrier. L’objectif affiché était d’essayer de concurrencer le sucre de cane issu du travail esclavagiste et de miner ainsi les fondements économiques de l’esclavage. L’innovation, vue comme processus, était également une façon pour Henry Blackwell de réconcilier ses deux aspirations : l’application de ses convictions réformistes, et la réussite matérielle qui aurait compensé les échecs de son père, raffineur. Pour lui, tout comme pour les autres réformistes de l’époque, l’innovation avait une dimension morale, et constituait le chaînon manquant entre réforme et monde des affaires.

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Texte intégral

1In a letter addressed to his younger brother George in November 1844, twenty-year-old Henry Blackwell described his distaste for business and what he saw as its overwhelming influence in people’s lives in general:

  • 1  Henry Blackwell to George Blackwell, Covington Ind., November 18, 1844. Blackwell Family Papers, S (...)

What an unworthy employment, or rather waste of precious time a great deal of the details of business requires. Surely the day will come when the mere acquisition of the means of living will be only incidental to life itself that, as now, absorb the whole existence of the great majority. I think a really wise man will quit business as soon as he can & devote himself to the acquisition of knowledge & the culture of all his powers & affections.1

2At first sight, such an ideal, based on the traditional opposition between the making of money and the development of one’s self would not seem surprising in a man best-known for his support of abolitionism and the women’s movement, if Henry Blackwell’s over-active business life did not contradict it in part.

  • 2  The participant was former Governor Long. Blackwell Memorial Meeting, November 13, 1910. Woman’s R (...)
  • 3  Frances J. Hosford, “The Pioneer Women of Oberlin College”, The Oberlin Alumni Magazine, volume XX (...)
  • 4  Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States, New (...)

3Interpretations have varied throughout the years as to Henry Blackwell’s business skills and his ability to reconcile his economic and political activities. At a memorial meeting in November 1910, one of the participants recalled: “He had excellent business capacity”.2 In 1927, a scholar described him and his older brother Samuel as “active business men and at the same time philanthropists and reformers”,3 thus indicating that they had managed to engage in both reform and business simultaneously, and also successfully. By contrast, the American historian Alex Keyssar’s more recent depiction of Henry Blackwell as “a dedicated reformer with a lifelong penchant for failed entrepreneurial schemes”4 suggests that he was incapable of achieving balance between the two, to the detriment of his economic enterprises.

  • 5  He wrote about his main profession, real estate: “…I have always found houses dull”. Letter of Hen (...)
  • 6  “Tribute to Mr. Blackwell, by Mrs. Emma J. Blackwell,” The Woman’s Journal, March 5, 1910, 38, Wom (...)

4Henry Blackwell was indeed a very active businessman, pursuing a great number of different ventures, but they hardly ever gave him utter satisfaction, whether financially or psychologically.5 Amid this wide range of business activities, sugar played a unique part for him:  “He had a lively interest in whatever related to sugar, from the plant to the Sugar Trust, quite independent of any business enterprises of his own”, wrote his wife’s niece in a tribute.6 Sugar refining was his father’s profession, and Henry Blackwell tried to make a living, and a fortune, out of sugar at least twice in his life: in the 1840s, at the beginning of his business career, and some thirty years later, when he tried to manufacture glucose syrup and beet sugar.

  • 7  For instance in Cuba, where slavery was abolished in 1886.
  • 8 “Sugar differs from any other agricultural product in requiring a manufacturing process to adapt it (...)

5Sugar illustrates the wave of industrialization in the United States in the second half of the nineteenth century, and the expectations of Americans, best described in Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner’s The Gilded Age, that large fortunes could be made in a flash provided that you came up with the right scheme or innovation. It was also unique as the result of mostly slave labor, in the United States until 1865, and other territories after the Civil War.7 Innovation was thus crucial to its manufacture for two reasons: it was a necessity in order to be profitable at a time of industrial and technical development, in a business that required large investment,8 and it was central in the fight against slavery, as a way to compete with slave cane sugar, and thus undermine the economic foundations of “the peculiar institution”.

6For Henry Blackwell, innovation that would have made “free” sugar profitable was the key to bringing his two lifelong aspirations together: the making of a fortune as a businessman, and the fulfilling of his convictions as a reformer. Considering this mission as an unending process, he invested it with a moral value, making it the missing link between reform and business, and the only acceptable way to reunite the two. The study of Henry Blackwell’s life and correspondence in relation to innovation in sugar allows us to gain some insight into the fragile equilibrium, also representative of nineteenth-century American reform in general, that he tried to maintain throughout the years between politics, ethics, and business.

Like father, like sons: innovation and slave sugar

  • 9  Henry Blackwell to Lucy Stone, June 13, 1853, in Leslie Wheeler (ed.), Loving Warriors: A Revealin (...)

7In June 1853, Henry Blackwell visited Theodore and Angelina Weld. In a letter to his future wife, the women’s rights leader Lucy Stone, he wrote about his feelings when he first saw Theodore Weld: “He welcomed me very warmly touching me on a weak point by recognizing my father’s face in mine though twenty years had passed, since he had known him”.9 It was certainly not coincidental that Henry Blackwell should have considered this resemblance with his father, who died in 1839, as a “weak point”. The likeness was physical, but it also was psychological and political: both father and son were convinced abolitionists and businessmen, and they both tried to set up innovative schemes in relation to sugar.

  • 10  Elinor Rice Hays, Those Extraordinary Blackwells: The Story of a Journey to a Better World, New Yo (...)
  • 11  Samuel Blackwell’s reformist convictions were not confined to abolitionism. Alice Stone Blackwell (...)
  • 12  “I have thought it more for the interest of the cause to avoid all public or prominent advocacy of (...)
  • 13  Alice Stone Blackwell, Lucy Stone, op. cit., 137-138. She adds: “He joined the Anti-Slavery Societ (...)
  • 14  Elinor Rice Hays, Those Extraordinary Blackwells, op.  cit., 15.

8Originally from England, the Blackwell family arrived in the United States in 1832, after Samuel Blackwell’s Bristol refineries had burned down.10 Once in America, he worked in the same business, first in New York City, then in Cincinnati, where he died soon after settling there. His descriptions often insist on his abolitionist convictions.11 Even if he claimed that he preferred to keep his opinions on the issue private because, as an Englishman, he did not want to indispose Americans by interfering with their affairs publicly, he referred to slavery as the “dreadful system”.12 Henry Blackwell’s daughter, Alice Stone Blackwell, saw his anti-slavery views as the result of the relations that, as a sugar refiner, he had to maintain with slaveholders: “His business brought him in contact with slaveholders from the West Indies and elsewhere, and he was much shocked by their attitude and that of the public in regard to the slaves”.13 The whole Blackwell family shared Samuel’s anti-slavery views, and his children even gave up the use of sugar because it was a “slave product”,14 which might have added to his moral dilemma both as an abolitionist and as a sugar refiner who needed slave products to do business.

  • 15  Margo Horn, Family Ties: The Blackwells, a Study in the Dynamics of Family Life in Nineteenth Cent (...)
  • 16  Margo Horn, Family Ties: The Blackwells, op. cit., 21-22.
  • 17  Elinor Rice Hays, Those Extraordinary Blackwells, op.  cit., 31.
  • 18  In 1837, Samuel noted in his diary that his father had “placed a furnace & boiler” to make some ex (...)

9Samuel Blackwell was an innovator and a precursor in the sugar refining business: when he moved to America, he introduced vacuum pans, “an innovation which permitted syrups to be treated for concentration and crystallization at safer and more efficient low temperatures”.15 This probably explains his success when he first arrived in New York, where he became the manager of a sugar refinery owned by a London-based firm. The house burned down in September 1836, and he had to rebuild it, but he sold it in March 1837.16 He then moved to Cincinnati with the intention of opening the first sugar refinery “west of the Alleghenies,” but did not have time to see his project through.17 In Samuel Blackwell’s mind, however, innovation was not only the key to profitability, but also a necessity to solve his moral dilemma, as shown by his attempts to extract sugar from beets in England and in the United States.18

  • 19  Margo Horn, Family Ties, op. cit., 71. See also Elinor Rice Hays, Those Extraordinary Blackwells, (...)

10When Samuel Blackwell died in 1839, his elder sons, Samuel and Henry, were forced to work in order to support the family. Sugar refining was their first natural choice, but there was some hesitation on their part, probably for the same reasons that had incited their father to find commercially profitable alternatives to cane sugar. His first son, Samuel, was in touch with Dennis Harris, a former New York City associate of his father’s, who was willing to teach him the business, but he eventually gave up, feeling that he could not possibly embark on this enterprise as long as it relied on slave products, and making up his mind to explore the possibility of importing cane sugar from the “free” West Indies.19 His moral interrogations are representative of the moral questioning that abolitionists, and American nineteenth-century reformers in general, were going through at the time, desirous as they were to live according to their ethical and political principles, and not to let economic considerations get the upper hand.

  • 20  The first Free Produce Society was created in Pennsylvania in 1826.
  • 21  Judith Wellmann, The Road to Seneca Falls: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the First Woman’s Convention(...)
  • 22 Wendell Phillips, Speeches, Lectures, and Letters, second series, Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1891, 14 (...)
  • 23 Wendell Phillips, Speeches, Lectures, and Letters, op. cit., 16.

11The Free Produce Movement, which was created under the influence of Quakers in the second half of the 1820s, was based on the principle that the political and the economic were inseparable in the fight against slavery.20 Stores were opened that sold “free products” only and the people involved in the movement “wore linen or wool instead of cotton and used maple sugar or honey instead of cane sugar”.21 The avowed goal was, through the boycott of slave products, to persuade Southern slaveholders to give up on slavery. This argumentation was developed by Wendell Phillips in a speech delivered in July 1840, and dealing with the cultivation of cotton in free British India. According to him, the production of cotton by free labor was to cause the destruction of slavery, whose survival was only due to the absence of competition: “Slavery can only be maintained by monopoly; the moment she comes into competition with free labor, she dies. Cotton is the corner-stone of slavery in America; remove it, and slavery receives its mortal blow”.22 Referring to slaveholders, he added that abolitionists had to “endeavor, by all justificable means, to affect their temporal interests”.23

  • 24 Celia Morris, Fanny Wright: Rebel in America, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984, 105.

12To reach this objective, the American anti-slavery movement resorted to the manifold dimensions of innovation: technical, for instance through the production of beet sugar; commercial, as in the case of the Free Produce Movement; and social and political, in Frances Wright’s commune created in the 1820s to show that freed slaves could be more hard-working and efficient than when held in bondage.24 Neither the Free Produce Movement nor Frances Wright’s experiment, however, managed to strike slavery a decisive blow. Free Produce stores were never popular enough, and the Nashoba community failed for lack of labor and proper management.

  • 25 Dorothy Sterling, Lucretia Mott, New York: The Feminist Press at the City University of NY, 1992 [1 (...)
  • 26  Gerda Lerner, The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Woman’s Rights and Abolition, N (...)

13There was undoubtedly another, more personal, purpose to these innovative ventures: investing reformers’ everyday lives with abolitionist convictions. For instance, the Philadelphia abolitionist James Mott, who opened a store where he sold slave cotton products in 1823, became a member of the Free Produce Society of Pennsylvania in 1826. Just as in the case of Samuel Blackwell, his contradictory commitments must have been difficult to sustain, for he gave up cotton for wool completely in 1830, and, from then on, his family consumed only free products.25 Such a decision may have been more ethical and personal than purely economic, because, the free products being of poor quality, it meant sacrificing relative material comfort in exchange for moral security. The American historian Gerda Lerner suggests that the renunciation involved in the Free Produce Movement was in fact an incentive for anti-slavery people: “The important thing was that it was a way in which one could manifest one’s abhorrence of slavery, a way in which one could purge oneself of the sin of it. If this meant a personal sacrifice, so much the better”.26 Daily life was a battlefield, where political opinions became visible, and where the private and public spheres could merge.

Henry Blackwell and sugar: the different dimensions of innovation

  • 27  Elinor Rice Hays, Those Extraordinary Blackwells, op. cit., 72; Margo Horn, Family Ties, op. cit., (...)

14We find the same ethical and political component in Henry Blackwell’s fascination with sugar and the innovative devices in relation to this business. His first notable attempt to enter the profession of sugar refiner dates back to 1846, a year after he had formally started his business life. He went to New York City to learn the business with Dennis Harris, and opened a refinery in Cincinnati in 1847, but it burned down.27 Until late in his life, he expressed some interest in sugar, not only through its manufacture, but also through investment in sugar stocks, whose comparative advantages he explained in 1901:

  • 28  Henry Blackwell to George Blackwell, December 28, 1901. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Libra (...)

The Sugar stock, which I should prefer as an investment, would be only the preferred, because that can usually be bought lower, does not fluctuate as much, and is better secured. […] The sugar refining business has always been very profitable, as practically all the sugar now used has to pass through its hands & pay at a profit.28

15In late 1875, he started to investigate the manufacture of starch syrup or glucose, and asked his brother George, then in Paris, to get him “reliable facts and figures in regard to the manufacture of glucose syrup from starch”. He was “convinced that the general use of syrup in this country [the United States] (as no where else in the world) would make the manufacture of glucose from corn starch & its combination with the sugar-syrup of the refineries for table use a very large & extremely profitable business & that it could be done to advantage in Boston”. Before considering such a venture, Henry Blackwell listed the four urgent questions that he needed answered before launching the business:

  • 29  Henry Blackwell to George Blackwell, Boston, December 21, 1875. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesing (...)

 […] given corn meal at 1 ¼ cents per lb at what price could such syrup as you brought me from the Paris Exposition in a phial be made per lb. 2. Would such syrup if mixed with the dripping of cane sugar or syrup from sugar refineries so as to [?] say 35 to 38 degrees Beaumé at a temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit – be either liable to deposit glucose sugar thus losing body & transparence, or to ferment & spoil rapidly by keeping in barrels during the summer […] 3. What would be the minimum cost of the machinery & fixtures needed to convert the corn-meal into glucose syrup on a paying scale – and 4. What would be the smallest paying scale on which the glucose syrup could be manufactured – ie – the smallest product per diem …29

  • 30  “6. Is glucose used in Europe at all for table use (with griddle? Cakes?) in place of syrup or mol (...)
  • 31  Henry Blackwell to George Blackwell, Boston February 6, 1876. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger (...)

16These enquiries clearly show that, although he was concerned with the technical aspect of the manufacture of glucose, whose composition and consistence had to remain stable, he was also considering the possibility of making its production profitable, hence his pressing interrogations as to its “paying scale”. We find the same tone of urgency and obsession in a letter written in February 1876, repeating some of the same questions that he had already asked a few months earlier. Apart from these usual inquiries, he expressed some interest in the “table use” that the French made of glucose,30 and he alluded to the quality of syrup that he had been able to produce so far in his “experiments”: “In my experiments with corn starch I have found it impossible to remove a disagreeable taste, due, I fancy, to the oil of the corn decomposed in the process of boiling with the sulphuric acid”.31

  • 32 Ibidem.
  • 33  Henry Blackwell to Lucy Stone, February 1877, in Leslie Wheeler (ed.), Loving Warriors, op. cit., (...)
  • 34  Henry Blackwell to George Blackwell, Boston, August 24, 1889. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger (...)
  • 35 “She is herself quite desirous to live East & that if possible I should not engage again in busines (...)

17Despite his worries, however, he felt convinced that he had found a very lucrative scheme provided the syrup could be sold in large quantities at the right price,32 which explains why he tried to secure a patent for his “glucose invention”. It was denied to him at first, and in February 1877, he set up a meeting with President Grant and the Commissioner of the Patent Office. Although he claimed he had “succeeded in explaining to the Commissioner [his] right to a patent”,33 it seems that he did not pursue the matter further. It was not the first time that he had shown such inconsistency in his business activities – and it was certainly not the last –, which probably accounts for his strong desire, visible in his correspondence, to convince people of the profitability and reasonableness of the ventures that he undertook. When in 1889 he proposed that George and his sister Emily invest three thousand dollars each in a scheme to produce carbonate of ammonia, he anticipated their objections: “I dare say that you & Emily will both shrug your shoulders & say ‘Henry is Anna’s own brother & the crankiness is cropping out.’ But you would not say so if you looked into the matter”.34 The same doubts might have been expressed by Lucy Stone before their wedding, as she asked him to quit business.35 It is not clear why she had made such a demand, but her husband did not keep his promise and remained in constant pursuit of business ventures, which required trips and long periods of separation from his family. In 1877, when Henry Blackwell was contemplating the manufacture of both glucose and beet sugar, his wife’s letter to George’s wife Emma, who was also her niece, best describes the kind of existence that they lived due to his over-activity:

  • 36 Lucy Stone to Emma Blackwell, April 30, 1877. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Library.

We have so many plans that we are quite sure not to carry any of them out. Harry is in the point of going to West Brookfield to get […] somebody to plant beet sugar seed, the roots to be used up by the machinery, at the mill factory. Also he may have to go back to Santo Domingo and he also proposes to go to Europe.36

  • 37 “If the beet sugar enterprise can be made a success it will offer the best opening for a fortune ev (...)

18One reason for such frenzy on the part of Henry Blackwell can be found at the end of one of his letters: “I have got to make some money soon. We are living beyond our income & that means trouble ahead”, he wrote. The financial motivation was strong, as revealed by his correspondence with George, in which he very regularly asked for loans, while expressing the paradoxical desire to become the extended family’s breadwinner.37 It is surely no coincidence that he should have articulated the wish to support his siblings at a time when he was trying to make a fortune in sugar. As early as July 1853, he had written Lucy Stone about his success where his father had failed, as a businessman and a breadwinner:

  • 38 Henry Blackwell to Lucy Stone, July 2, 1853, in Leslie Wheeler (ed.), Loving Warriors, op.cit., 44.

Now, after a good many years of hard work, (for my father died a stranger in a strange city, leaving a widow & nine children accustomed to comparative luxury & entirely destitute), I have attained a position in business, where, in every human probability, in three years more I can realize such a position & meanwhile fulfill my private duties to relatives & friends whose comfort & position are linked with mine.38

  • 39 Henry Blackwell to Lucy Stone, Portland, Maine, October 28, 1878, in Leslie Wheeler (ed.), Loving W (...)
  • 40  “I think however that the true idea of marriage is a business partnership in pecuniary matters lik (...)

19The closest he ever came to his father’s business was in 1878, when he started the project of manufacturing beet sugar. He tried to introduce the culture of beets in Maine, and became the Treasurer of the Maine Beet Sugar Company, which he created with two other associates to provide farmers with beet seeds and help them get state subsidies. His correspondence suggests that the first year was very promising. He kept Lucy Stone informed of the success of his enterprise, underlining the consequence of such an achievement on slavery. In a famous telegram sent to her in October 1878, he wrote: “Beet sugar manufacture a success. Slavery in Cuba is doomed”.39 To his brother George, however, he never mentioned the ethical and political component of his venture, and preferred to stress its profitability. Henry Blackwell was thus able to emphasize whatever aspect of his enterprise that he thought would suit his addressee better. At least two reasons account for such compartmentalization. The first might have had to do with Lucy Stone’s reluctance as to her husband’s doing business and the long separations and financial loss involved, which only the production of free sugar and its political consequences might have compensated. In the same way, the essentials of his close relationship with his brother George were based on business and money, and he was probably trying to reassure his brother as to his business skills by constantly presenting him with new, apparently successful, ventures. In this perspective, the meaning of innovation was two-fold: it guaranteed the prospects of profit, but it was also the only possibility of combining the political and the economic for a man who compared marriage with a “business partnership”.40 What is remarkable in the case of Henry Blackwell is that, while explicitly expressing a contradiction between business and reform, he constantly tried to combine the two. One of the functions of innovation in relation to sugar was to show that as a reformer, he was at the vanguard of society not only economically and technically, but also politically and ethically.

20The beet sugar venture best exemplifies a regular pattern in Henry Blackwell’s life, punctuated as it was by alternating periods of excitement and depression, following the ups and downs of his innovative schemes. At first, he expressed unmitigated optimism. In the 1870s, he went to San Domingo to investigate beet sugar, and, in 1879, he purchased some material in Germany. His optimism is visible in his first letters:

  • 41  Henry Blackwell to Lucy Stone, Sebago Lake, Maine, April 30, 1878, in Leslie Wheeler (ed.), Loving (...)

The beet-sugar matter will, I think, succeed. Everything is favorable except the shortage of time for getting the seed into the ground. We have as President of the Company, the best merchant in Portland, S. Hunt, the sugar refiner. We have got the best sugar-house in Maine for the 6 inter months, for about interest and taxes. This will insure good refined sugar and a good percentage.41

  • 42  Henry Blackwell to George Blackwell, Boston, July 8, 1878. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Li (...)
  • 43  Henry Blackwell to George Blackwell, Boston, February 25, 1880. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesing (...)
  • 44 Henry Blackwell to Emily Blackwell, Portland, Maine, April 14, 1880. Blackwell Family Papers, Schle (...)
  • 45 Henry Blackwell to Emily Blackwell, Portland, Maine, April 14, 1880. Blackwell Family Papers, Schle (...)
  • 46 “The Beet Sugar business is likely to die out here for want of Beets. […] Sic transit Gloria Beet S (...)
  • 47  Alice Stone Blackwell, Lucy Stone, op .cit., 269.

21Following George’s advice, Henry Blackwell’s main contribution in the project was not financial, unlike his partners’, but he nevertheless felt its “moral” weight: “I feel the moral responsibility of the trust & shall do my best to bring out a good result for him & for myself.”42 As months passed, however, Henry Blackwell showed signs of despondency, describing the prospects as “vague”43 and “gloomy”.44 He was also “thoroughly sick & worn out” with what he called his “prolonged exile from home, family, friends, and general interests”.45The enterprise failed for lack of beets and profit, because the farmers refused to grow them the second year in the absence of state subsidies, a version told by Henry Blackwell,46 and discreetly confirmed by his daughter,47 but it is significant that she should have used the exact same reason given by her father, without dwelling on the details of the fiasco, and, in general, on his repeated failures as a businessman. An only child, she was to play the part of the guardian of her parents’ reputation even after they died.

  • 48  Henry Blackwell to Lucy Stone, April 21, 1880, inLeslie Wheeler (ed.), Loving Warriors, op.cit., 2 (...)
  • 49 Margo Horn, Family Ties, op. cit., 311.
  • 50  Henry Blackwell to George Blackwell, Boston, August 22, 1889. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger (...)

22After his failure, Henry Blackwell wrote Lucy Stone about his role and fate as a precursor who was doomed, as his father had been, to set an example without benefiting from his inventions: “All I can do is pave the way for mean and mercenary men to follow & make fortunes from the path I have opened. They will never so much as thank me. This was my poor father’s fate. It must be mine”.48 This statement was confirmed in part as beet sugar started competing effectively with cane sugar in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century.49 What is more surprising, however, is the fact that he did not resume its manufacture when it was clear that it would be profitable, probably finding the situation of the pioneer more comfortable than that of the successful businessman. For instance, ten years after his failed beet sugar manufacture, he enthusiastically wrote his brother about a “very promising opportunity to make a great deal of money soon & with small risk.” A friend of his had been working on “a process for making carbonate of Ammonia from leather scrap,” and he was once again convinced of the profitability of the enterprise because the market was “unlimited.” Three hundred days in the business were supposed to “give a net profit of $79200 on a total investment of $6000 [sic.]”.50 He never carried this project through to a successful conclusion.

Conclusion

  • 51  Henry Blackwell to George Blackwell, April 12, 1856. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Library.

23Analyzing Henry Blackwell’s attempts in the sugar business, it seems that he might, after all, have followed the letter of his 1856 resolution: “our object is to improve ourselves & not to make money our first object…”.51 The fact that he pursued numerous ventures throughout his life, giving up some of them just before they became lucrative – a tendency also displayed by his father – shows that, although he often expressed his desire to make money, this was probably not his main goal. In this perspective, innovation played a singular part: it satisfied the image that he had of himself as a precursor, and he endowed it with a moral dimension, for instance when he claimed that beet sugar would destroy slavery, but also when he expressed the desire to support his family. The question thus remains as to Henry Blackwell’s status as an innovator because of his failures. The idea of innovation, however, had another function, which helped him live a reformer’s life, as is suggested in a letter to George written one year after Lucy Stone’s death and dwelling on the choices that he had made in his life:

  • 52  Henry Blackwell to George Blackwell, January 23, 1894. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Librar (...)

Outside of real estate investment, I have never made much - $4000 a year with Dennis Harris for 2 years was the highest compensation I ever received for services. I think I can recall half a dozen bad mistakes however in investment. […] But what does it all matter? I would give all I have in the world for six hours with Lucy. The great successes are moral not material.52

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Bibliographie

BLACKWELL Family Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (Harvard University).

BLACKWELL Alice Stone, Lucy Stone, Pioneer of Woman’s Rights, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001 [1930].

BLACKWELL Alice Stone, “To Henry B. Blackwell,” in Sidney Dix Strong (ed.), What I Owe to My Father, New York: The Press of the Pioneers, 33-48.

KEYSSAR Alexander, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States, New York: Basic Books, 2000.

HAYS Elinor Rice, Those Extraordinary Blackwells: The Story of a Journey to a Better World, New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1967.

HORN Margo, Family Ties: The Blackwells, a Study in the Dynamics of Family Life in Nineteenth Century America, unpublished dissertation, Tufts University, 1980.

LERNER Gerda, The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Woman’s Rights and Abolition, New York: Schocken Books, 1967.

MORRIS Celia, Fanny Wright: Rebel in America, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984.

PHILLIPS Wendell, Speeches, Lectures, and Letters, second series, Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1891. History of Women microfilm series. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (Harvard University).

STANTON Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. ANTHONY, and Matilda Joslyn GAGE, The History of Woman Suffrage, Salem, NH: Ayer, 1985 (1881). Volume 1: 1848-1861.

STERLING Dorothy, Lucretia Mott, New York: The Feminist Press at the City University of NY, 1992 [1964].

TWAIN, Mark and Charles Dudley WARNER, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, London: Penguin, 2001 (1873).

WELLMAN, Judith, The Road to Seneca Falls: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the First Woman’s Convention, Urbana: The University of Illinois Press, 2004.

WHEELER Leslie (ed.), Loving Warriors: A Revealing Portrait of an Unprecedented Marriage, Selected Letters of Lucy Stone and Henry B. Blackwell, 1853-1893, New York, The Dial Press, 1981.

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Notes

1  Henry Blackwell to George Blackwell, Covington Ind., November 18, 1844. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. The underlining in all the quotations taken from Henry Blackwell’s letters was done by the author himself.

2  The participant was former Governor Long. Blackwell Memorial Meeting, November 13, 1910. Woman’s Rights Collection, Schlesinger Library. Henry Blackwell died in 1909.

3  Frances J. Hosford, “The Pioneer Women of Oberlin College”, The Oberlin Alumni Magazine, volume XXIII, January 1927, n°4, 9. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Library.

4  Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States, New York: Basic Books, 2000, 184.

5  He wrote about his main profession, real estate: “…I have always found houses dull”. Letter of Henry to George, Dorchester, December 16, 1891. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Library.

6  “Tribute to Mr. Blackwell, by Mrs. Emma J. Blackwell,” The Woman’s Journal, March 5, 1910, 38, Woman’s Rights Collection, Schlesinger Library.

7  For instance in Cuba, where slavery was abolished in 1886.

8 “Sugar differs from any other agricultural product in requiring a manufacturing process to adapt it to consumption, and to do this economically it has to be done on an immense scale with a large capital.” Henry Blackwell to George Blackwell, December 28, 1901. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Library.

9  Henry Blackwell to Lucy Stone, June 13, 1853, in Leslie Wheeler (ed.), Loving Warriors: A Revealing Portrait of an Unprecedented Marriage, Selected Letters of Lucy Stone and Henry B. Blackwell, 1853-1893, New York: The Dial Press, 1981, 36.

10  Elinor Rice Hays, Those Extraordinary Blackwells: The Story of a Journey to a Better World, New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1967, 17.

11  Samuel Blackwell’s reformist convictions were not confined to abolitionism. Alice Stone Blackwell wrote that he once attended one of Frances Wright’s talks, claiming that “[m]uch of what she said was very good sense.” Alice Stone Blackwell, Lucy Stone, Pioneer of Woman’s Rights, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001 [1930], 138.

12  “I have thought it more for the interest of the cause to avoid all public or prominent advocacy of its interests – well knowing the jealousy of an interference in this controversy by Englishmen. I have avoided no opportunity to advocating the grand principles and interests of the society in my private intercourse with Americans…” Samuel Blackwell to H.C. Howells, Pittsburgh, PA; Jersey City, January 13, 1838. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Library.

13  Alice Stone Blackwell, Lucy Stone, op. cit., 137-138. She adds: “He joined the Anti-Slavery Society, and composed and published a small volume of “Slavery Rhymes.” The children worked for the Anti-Slavery Bazaars: the family named their carriage horses Garrison and Prudence Crandall; and prominent abolitionists, when in danger of being mobbed in New York, took refuge at the Blackwell home on Long Island.”

14  Elinor Rice Hays, Those Extraordinary Blackwells, op.  cit., 15.

15  Margo Horn, Family Ties: The Blackwells, a Study in the Dynamics of Family Life in Nineteenth Century America, unpublished dissertation, Tufts University, 1980, 21. See also Alice Stone Blackwell, Lucy Stone, op. cit., 137.

16  Margo Horn, Family Ties: The Blackwells, op. cit., 21-22.

17  Elinor Rice Hays, Those Extraordinary Blackwells, op.  cit., 31.

18  In 1837, Samuel noted in his diary that his father had “placed a furnace & boiler” to make some experiments. Samuel Blackwell’s diary, March 25, 1837, quoted in Margo Horn, Family Ties, op. cit., 298-299.

19  Margo Horn, Family Ties, op. cit., 71. See also Elinor Rice Hays, Those Extraordinary Blackwells, op. cit., 39.

20  The first Free Produce Society was created in Pennsylvania in 1826.

21  Judith Wellmann, The Road to Seneca Falls: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the First Woman’s Convention, Urbana: The University of Illinois Press, 2004, 107. Judith Wellmann gives the example of Sarah M’Clintock, who specified that she wanted to be buried in linen, and not slave cotton. See Judith Wellmann, The Road to Seneca Falls, op.cit., 109.

22 Wendell Phillips, Speeches, Lectures, and Letters, second series, Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1891, 14-15. History of Women Microfilm Series. Schlesinger Library.

23 Wendell Phillips, Speeches, Lectures, and Letters, op. cit., 16.

24 Celia Morris, Fanny Wright: Rebel in America, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984, 105.

25 Dorothy Sterling, Lucretia Mott, New York: The Feminist Press at the City University of NY, 1992 [1964], 75-79.

26  Gerda Lerner, The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Woman’s Rights and Abolition, New York: Schocken Books, 1967, 131-132.

27  Elinor Rice Hays, Those Extraordinary Blackwells, op. cit., 72; Margo Horn, Family Ties, op. cit., 305. In 1868, Henry Blackwell apparently contemplated working with Harris again, but did not follow up on his idea. See Elinor Rice Hays, Those Extraordinary Blackwells, op. cit., 162.

28  Henry Blackwell to George Blackwell, December 28, 1901. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Library.

29  Henry Blackwell to George Blackwell, Boston, December 21, 1875. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Library.

30  “6. Is glucose used in Europe at all for table use (with griddle? Cakes?) in place of syrup or molasses.” Henry Blackwell to George Blackwell, Boston February 6, 1876. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Library.

31  Henry Blackwell to George Blackwell, Boston February 6, 1876. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Library.

32 Ibidem.

33  Henry Blackwell to Lucy Stone, February 1877, in Leslie Wheeler (ed.), Loving Warriors, op. cit., 261.

34  Henry Blackwell to George Blackwell, Boston, August 24, 1889. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Library. Henry’s sister, Anna, was known as the eccentric in the Blackwell family.

35 “She is herself quite desirous to live East & that if possible I should not engage again in business for a few years,” Henry Blackwell wrote his sister Emily in March 1855, adding “it will require at least six months, possibly a year, to get matters here settled up, after which I shall take time to decide where I shall live & what shall I do.” Henry Blackwell to Emily Blackwell, Cincinnati, March 2, 1855. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Library.

36 Lucy Stone to Emma Blackwell, April 30, 1877. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Library.

37 “If the beet sugar enterprise can be made a success it will offer the best opening for a fortune ever afforded us, &, […] somewhat late in life, I shall try to get enough out of it to make Anna, Marian, Eliz, Ellen & Sam’s children easy in their circumstances.” Henry Blackwell to George Blackwell, Boston, July 8, 1878. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Library. Anna, Marian, Elizabeth, Ellen, and Sam were his brother and sisters. He probably did not mention George’s children because he considered him as capable of supporting his own family.

38 Henry Blackwell to Lucy Stone, July 2, 1853, in Leslie Wheeler (ed.), Loving Warriors, op.cit., 44.

39 Henry Blackwell to Lucy Stone, Portland, Maine, October 28, 1878, in Leslie Wheeler (ed.), Loving Warriors: op. cit., 269.

40  “I think however that the true idea of marriage is a business partnership in pecuniary matters like that existing between members of our firm. You and I will be joint proprietors of everything except the results of previous labors.” Henry Blackwell to Lucy Stone, December 22, 1854, in Leslie Wheeler (ed.), Loving Warriors, op. cit., 110.

41  Henry Blackwell to Lucy Stone, Sebago Lake, Maine, April 30, 1878, in Leslie Wheeler (ed.), Loving Warriors, op. cit., 267-268.

42  Henry Blackwell to George Blackwell, Boston, July 8, 1878. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Library.

43  Henry Blackwell to George Blackwell, Boston, February 25, 1880. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Library.

44 Henry Blackwell to Emily Blackwell, Portland, Maine, April 14, 1880. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Library.

45 Henry Blackwell to Emily Blackwell, Portland, Maine, April 14, 1880. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Library.

46 “The Beet Sugar business is likely to die out here for want of Beets. […] Sic transit Gloria Beet Sugar Industry!” Henry Blackwell to Lucy Stone, April 12, 1880, inLeslie Wheeler (ed.), Loving Warriors, op.cit., 278.

47  Alice Stone Blackwell, Lucy Stone, op .cit., 269.

48  Henry Blackwell to Lucy Stone, April 21, 1880, inLeslie Wheeler (ed.), Loving Warriors, op.cit., 278.

49 Margo Horn, Family Ties, op. cit., 311.

50  Henry Blackwell to George Blackwell, Boston, August 22, 1889. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Library.

51  Henry Blackwell to George Blackwell, April 12, 1856. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Library.

52  Henry Blackwell to George Blackwell, January 23, 1894. Blackwell Family Papers, Schlesinger Library.

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Hélène Quanquin, « Innovation as moral victory: Henry Blackwell and sugar », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. IV - n°1 | 2006, 220-233.

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Hélène Quanquin, « Innovation as moral victory: Henry Blackwell and sugar », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. IV - n°1 | 2006, mis en ligne le 26 octobre 2009, consulté le 13 août 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/2276 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/lisa.2276

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Hélène Quanquin

Dr. (Paris III, France)
Hélène Quanquin is Associate Professor of American Civilization at the University of Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris III. In 2001, she completed her PhD. dissertation on abortion in Canada and the United States since the end of the 1960s. Her current research is two-fold: the American and Canadian women’s rights movements in the 19th and 20th centuries, especially their relationships with men and the comparative analysis of the United States and Canada. In 2005, she was awarded a short-term research grant from the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (Harvard University).

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Les contenus de la Revue LISA / LISA e-journal sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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