Cornell Research

I went to the archives at Cornell University on January 10th and 11th. While I was there, I searched through the May Anti-Slavery Manuscript Collection, the American Freedman’s Union Commission letter books 1865-1868, the American Freedman’s Union Commission minute book 1866-1869, and the American Freedmen’s Aid Commission Board of Managers minutes 1865-1866.

For how much McKim’s name appears in the letters, Cornell has very few letters actually written by McKim. Even though there are 10 folders devoted to just his writings, there were only about fifteen letters total. However, the resources at Cornell prove McKim’s prominence in the abolition and freedmen’s relief causes despite the lack of materials penned by McKim. In the 1860s, especially 1866 and 1867, all the noted abolitionists, several republicans, and many peripheral figures in the movements were writing to McKim. In fact, the majority of the letters in the collection in the 1860s were addressed to McKim.

Revisions and Suggestions

On Tuesday, I submitted the draft of chapter two of my thesis to the History Department for my presentation on December 11. Even after spending the whole semester working on this chapter, upon rereading it, I realize there are still many parts that are unclear, confusing, and not as well-researched as they could be. When I give my presentation, I will be receiving questions and advice from the department regarding the challenges I am facing in this project. I am hoping that members of the department can advise me in answering the following questions:

  1. When I was looking at newspaper articles, I decided I wanted to use the phrase “the impending crisis” despite its original intent. How can I more clearly explain how the phrase applies to the abolitionists’ struggle between themselves as I move throughout the entirety of the chapter?
  2. I am struggling in switching back and forth between narrative, close reading, and historiography. One specific instance is my discussion of why McKim chose to leave the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. How can I improve my explanation of McKim’s reasons through intertwining these three elements?
  3. I chose to cover quite a few major events that occurred between 1859-1862. The main topics I wanted to cover were the abolitionists’ debates over John Brown’s execution/funeral, secession and the start of the war, and the results of the First Confiscation Act. Did you find these years and events effective, or was I trying to cover too much material? How can I better link these events together?


One of the main things I have struggled with is working on my thesis every day. Having such a large project looming over my head is intimidating, so I tend to deal with it by doing all my other work and then devoting all my time left to the thesis. The problem with that, however, is that by the time I get around to my thesis, the week is almost over, and I have five or six fewer days to do the work I was supposed to do over the course of seven days. Talking to other seniors with looming theses, I realized I am not the only student struggling to meet the demands of a thesis while also enjoying the process and not becoming overwhelmed. I attempted to work on my thesis every day for the past two and a half weeks, and it made such a difference. For fellow seniors or anyone with an impending deadline, here are some tips I have been working on to make the process less daunting.

  1. Try to do a little bit every day–I was not entirely successful in this endeavor, but working all but five days in the past two and a half weeks made a huge difference in my thesis and my overall mindset. I felt much more on top of my deadlines and am more confident in the work I produced.
  2. Create small tasks for each day–I struggled with working on my thesis the first few days mostly because I was forcing myself to do too much. I found that even just making small tasks for each day to keep myself thinking about the thesis was incredibly helpful because it made me realize I did not have to do everything each time I sat down to work on it.
  3. Not finishing each task is okay–Because I like to start and finish projects in one sitting and will work for hours straight to make that happen, I often have a hard time allowing myself to take breaks and to not finish a task in one day. Reminding myself that I can hold off on a task and work on another one instead or do half of one and half of another has allowed me to get more work done because the pressure to finish each task is not as high.
  4. Just write–I have a tendency to think about essays in my head and plan them out all in my head until I feel comfortable enough to write them out on paper or run out of time. This often leads me to procrastinate papers because even though I spend hours working on a paper way in advance, I rarely have much if anything on paper until the day or a couple days before a deadline. Professor Pinsker told me at the beginning of the semester that I need to get out of my head and just write, and that has honestly been some of the most encouraging advice I have received. I still have a lot to work on in forcing myself to just write, but I can already see a big difference in my work when I write in advance as compared to when I plan in my head until the deadline.
  5. It is okay to ask questionsIf you have a question, do not be afraid to ask. This has been another one of my main stumbling blocks because I try to solve problems and then if I cannot solve them, I push them off until I run out of time instead of asking for help or advice. There is nothing wrong in recognizing someone else’s expertise and asking them questions.

I am still working on each and every one of these pieces of advice. While I am making significant progress, I still have a long way to go. Hopefully these tips can help you as much as they have been helping me.

McKim’s Eulogy

In my research for this week, I attempted to find the eulogy McKim gave at John Brown’s funeral. While I have yet to find the eulogy itself, I did find some sources that quoted it. I searched through Dickinson College’s Jumpstart with keywords like “McKim,” “John Brown,” “funeral,” and “eulogy.” When that returned no helpful results, I went to Google Scholar and searched with variations of those keywords. Based on that search, I found two newspaper articles that discussed the funeral and a secondary source that quoted from his eulogy.


By searching through the New York Daily Tribune archives database, I found a transcript of McKim’s speech. While the article does not say what McKim said word for word, it provides a detailed summary of McKim’s eulogy. I found the December 12, 1859 article by searching for “McKim” and narrowing the date from December 2, 1859 to December 31, 1859. I only had a few results, so I searched through them individually until I found this article.

McKim as Mediator

Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz’s The Tie That Bound Us: The Women of John Brown’s Family and the Legacy of Radical Abolitionism explains the contentious debates between abolitionists and McKim’s role as a mediator. In her book, Laughlin-Schultz addresses Mary Brown’s South-bound trip to see her husband John Brown leading up to his execution. McKim and a party of other abolitionists accompanied Brown as they traveled by train, wagon, sleigh, and ferry to Virginia. Around the time of the execution, Mary Brown and James McKim were close: she stayed with him and later Lucretia Mott in Philadelphia. While McKim did not witness Mary and her husband’s reunion, he published an account of his time traveling with her and spoke at John Brown’s funeral. While I have yet to find the account he wrote, once I have access to the full book with the citations, I will be able to track down where I can find this document.[1]

Beyond briefly touching on McKim’s and Mary Brown’s friendship, Laughlin-Schultz addresses the factions of abolitionists that attempted to exert their control over the funeral arrangements. Some abolitionists, believing John Brown to be one of the greatest abolitionists, fought to have his body buried in a huge funeral at a national cemetery. They wanted to turn his funeral into a rallying cry for abolitionism, complete with various speeches made in support of the abolitionist cause. However, the Brown family wanted the funeral to be personal, so other abolitionists respected this desire as well as Brown’s dying wishes that the funeral not be grand and argued for it to occur in a private setting, unencumbered by abolitionist tides. Ever the mediator, McKim, according to Laughlin-Schultz, talked to both parties until everyone was in agreement. McKim acknowledged both the desire of the family for a personal burial for Brown and the desire of “‘the friends of the slave'” to have the opportunity to convey their “‘public manifestations of respect for the remains of the martyr.'”[2] The compromise was a fairly private funeral in which McKim and another abolitionist spoke about Brown’s role in their cause.  Concluding that McKim  “sought a sense of continued relevance, an affirmation that their decades long work for the movement still mattered,” Laughlin-Schultz reveals McKim’s “continued relevance” was not as the leading figure of the abolitionists nor their main writer, but rather the mediator who, behind the scenes, struck bargains without compromising on the abolitionist cause.[3]

[1] Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz, The Tie That Bound Us: The Women of John Brown’s Family and the Legacy of Radical Abolitionism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 68-76. [JSTOR]

[2] Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz, The Tie That Bound Us: The Women of John Brown’s Family and the Legacy of Radical, 75-76.

[3] Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz, The Tie That Bound Us, 80.

Initial Ideas and Structure

My honors project focuses on James Miller McKim’s role in abolitionism leading up to, during, and following the Civil War. I am creating these blog posts in order to keep myself organized, to explain my research process, and to reveal my progress. The finished thesis will be around 60-75 pages, complete with three major chapters, an introduction, and a conclusion. Each of the chapters will be approximately 20-25 pages. As of now, I plan to lay out the chapters chronologically as opposed to thematically. If organized thematically, each of the chapters would have a parallel structure in the basic arc, beginning with the same moment, which would most likely be McKim’s travels to Port Royal, and then diverging into emphases on McKim’s involvement with the enlistment of black soldiers, the re-election campaign for President Abraham Lincoln, and the reconstruction of the nation. However, I am worried that if I write thematically, the chapters will be too discontinuous even with the parallel structure. The paper might end up reading like three separate articles as opposed to connected chapters. Writing chronologically, I will be able to maintain parallel structure by creating symmetrical points within chapters, while also allowing my research to flow continuously throughout the three chapters.

The thesis will focus on 1859 to 1869 because little research has been completed regarding the abolitionists during the Civil War and even less has been conducted on McKim’s role later in his life. Chapters will be broken down between 1859 and 1862, 1862 and 1864, and 1864 and 1869. The first will begin in 1859 with McKim’s support of John Brown’s wife following Brown’s insurrection and execution. That chapter will look at McKim’s pre-Civil War involvement with abolitionists, his shift from being an absolute pacifist to supporting secession to rid the nation of slavery, and his resignation from the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. It will end with him traveling to Port Royal in 1862. The next chapter will begin with McKim’s time at Port Royal, his involvement in the Port Royal experiment, his rallying for black enlistment and troops, and his support of Lincoln’s re-election. The final chapter will begin with Lincoln’s re-election and discuss McKim’s emphasis on freedmen relief societies, his first publication of the Nation, and his focus on the desegregation of Philadelphia street cars. In setting up the chapters with these years, I will be able to break down this important decade and articulate McKim’s major shifts in focus throughout it.