U.S. Intellectual History Blog

The Page 99 Test

I just came across this website after being asked to contribute. The premise is clever, and there are a lot prominent contributors who make it interesting. The English litterateur Ford Madox Ford once said,”Open the book to page ninety-nine, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.” Taking off from that quote, the Page 99 Test asks writers to apply the maxim to their own work. What does page 99 say about the work as a whole? The site rewards some exploration, but here are a few memorable contributions that I’ve found: Daniel Rodgers on the Age of Fracture, Pauline Maier on Ratification, Daniel K. Williams on God’s Own Party, Darren Dochuk on From Bible Belt to Sun Belt, and Samuel Moyn on The Last Utopia. My contribution on The Myth of American Religious Freedom is here.

3 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Well, any page which gives William Lloyd Garrison his due is a good page in my book…or yours.

    I would argue that Garrison’s radical commitment to “universal emancipation” and full equality for women and African-Americans was most deeply rooted not in his reverence for the natural rights as set forth in the Declaration of Independence — though that was a high reverence indeed — but in his religious world view.

    It was his absolute certainty that the full spiritual equality of all human persons was clearly revealed in the Bible and therefore should be proclaimed and put into practice.

    That prophetic zeal coupled with his perfectionistic millennialism meant that he was articulating, from a purely religious standpoint, ideas whose origins today we would be more inclined to attribute to a secular humanist/natural rights tradition.

  2. Thanks for your comment, LD. But I don’t think I agree with you. It depends on which Garrison we are talking about. For the early Garrison of the 1820s and early 1830s, I don’t disagree. But he quickly began moving in Hicksite Quaker and freethought circles to the point that he no longer talked much about the Bible. He spoke of his moral position as “self-evident.” By the 1840s he had basically abandoned discussion of the Bible as a source for rights, because it was by then evident that the Bible could be used just as effectively, if not more effectively, to support slavery and female subordination. By the late 1840s at a woman’s rights convention he dismissed, with the other radicals of the movement, any attempt to use the Bible to engage Christians and referred to churches as “an incubus” that needed to be removed before their reform would succeed. And in 1845 he discovered Thomas Paine and went headlong into freethought and free religion. He started out with a highly individualized religion in the mid 1820s, and the more radical he got, the more his individualized and idiosyncratic religion began to resemble no religion at all.

  3. Your last sentence here sums up Garrison very well as I have come to understand him, though I wonder if he wouldn’t take issue with it. I think Garrison would have said that his religion was the only true religion. That it bore no resemblance to any existing ecclesiological manifestation would have simply confirmed him in that view.

    As to the rest of your comment — well, I will have to do some more reading now, won’t I. 🙂

Comments are closed.