‘The Medium of Their Pockets’
Despite a growing interest in the history of consumer society and its relationship to politics, historians have tended to treat the topic of consumer activism in a piecemeal way and in isolation, focusing on one particular episode or another. American consumer activism is, in either version, discontinuous. This chapter briefly examines the three antebellum consumer movements, their underlying philosophies, and the criticisms they engendered. It argues that free produce campaigners, non-intercourse advocates, and Sabbatarians, despite their differences, developed the philosophies and techniques and even the vocabulary that continue to guide consumer activism. They also set off a criticism of consumer politics and those who practice it that has not entirely disappeared. Largely forgotten, by their heirs in the National Consumers League and other twentieth-century consumer groups and by historians of consumer politics, these groups are themselves an essential link in the chain of consumer activism.