Ellis’s essay reconstructs the history of environmental crisis—the crisis of Southern soil exhaustion—at the heart of the antebellum slavery debates. Through readings of landscape in My Bondage and My Freedom, the essay argues that in the 1850s, Douglass displaces the moral and sentimental antislavery rhetorics for which he is known in favor of a newly pragmatic antislavery logic focused on slavery’s unsustainability—its tendency to exhaust the soil. This argument has two main aims: to explore Douglass’s engagement with ecological and economic antislavery rhetorics, and, more broadly, to consider the relevance of his pragmatic turn to modern ecocriticism as it reexamines the role of ethical sentiment in its project going forward.

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