Selected Titles on
Abolition and the American Civil War
In 1960 Harvard University Press published the first modern edition of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself. That edition, only recently superseded, was edited and featured an Introduction by Benjamin Quarles, a prolific and pioneering African American historian.
Quarles and HUP were reintroducing Frederick Douglass to a United States that was in the midst of its greatest racial reordering since Douglass’s own time. It’s instructive to revisit Quarles’s essay now, half a century after it was written, as we comemmorate the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War. We’re pleased to make the full text available online.
“River of Dark Dreams is an important, arguably seminal, book… It is always trenchant and learned. And in highly compelling fashion, it helps us more fully appreciate how thoroughly the slaveholding South was part of the capitalist transatlantic world of the first half of the 19th century.
—Mark M. Smith, The Wall Street Journal
“John Burt has written a work that every serious student of Lincoln will have to read… Burt refracts Lincoln through the philosophy of Kant, Rawls and contemporary liberal political theory. His is very much a Lincoln for our time.”
—Steven B. Smith, The New York Times Book Review
“Masur…argue[s] persuasively that the progression of events during that critical autumn of the war were full of contingencies and that the final outcome was by no means certain… Provide[s] detailed and careful renderings of these events and of Lincoln’s intellectual journey.”
—James M. McPherson, The New York Review of Books
“[R]evelatory… Hager argues that the act of writing—often in defiance of states’ antiliteracy laws—was an exceedingly potent form of self-empowerment for these oppressed men and women, never mind their poor spelling and unorthodox methods… Primary documents…reveal powerful emotions and common hardships, bear witness to racial struggles across the country, and provide unalloyed insight into the stark yet hopeful reality after the Emancipation Proclamation… This thoughtful examination of the artifacts of a too-long-silenced population is made all the more eloquent by accompanying facsimiles of the arduously penned missives.”—Publishers Weekly
“In the wide sweep of texts collected here—150 speeches, editorials, letters to editors, pamphlets, poems, songs, and more, each neatly set in historical context by the editors—Northerners, Southerners, and foreign commentators are shown to be, in Frederick Douglass’s phrase, both ‘curious and contradictory’ in weighing the meaning of John Brown and his act… To understand the power of conviction and the crisis of fear that brought on civil war, reading this brilliant collection is essential. From it, one will see that John Brown is not a-moldering in his grave. He haunts us yet today.”—Randall M. Miller, Library Journal (starred review)
“[N]ot so much a history of wartime patriotism as a series of meditations on the meaning of the Union to Northerners, the role of slavery in the conflict, and how historians have interpreted (and in his view misinterpreted) these matters… Gallagher offers a salutary reminder of the power of democratic ideals not simply to Northerners in the era of the Civil War, but also to people in other nations, who celebrated the Union victory as a harbinger of greater rights for themselves. Imaginatively invoking sources neglected by other scholars…Gallagher gives a dramatic portrait of the power of wartime nationalism.”—Eric Foner, The New York Times Book Review
“The sesquicentennial of the Civil War now looms on the horizon, promising [a] deluge of books… We will be fortunate indeed if in sheer originality and insight they measure up to Confederate Reckoning… McCurry challenges us to expand our definition of politics to encompass not simply government but the entire public sphere. The struggle for Southern independence, she shows, opened the door for the mobilization of two groups previously outside the political nation—white women of the nonslaveholding class and slaves… Confederate Reckoning offers a powerful new paradigm for understanding events on the Confederate home front.”—Eric Foner, The Nation
“In this readable and revealing book, renowned Lincoln scholar Holzer investigates the process whereby Lincoln drafted, vetted, and presented the Emancipation Proclamation… Especially important is Holzer’s demonstration that Lincoln wrapped the proclamation’s revolutionary promise in ‘leaden’ legal language to ensure its Constitutionality and its palatability to loyal slaveholders, Northerners, and others still uneasy with the prospect of ending slavery. Also instructive is Holzer’s examination of the Lincoln image as the ‘Great Emancipator’ and the kneeling slave motif… Highly recommended for anyone wanting to learn about how freedom came to be.”
—Randall M. Miller, Library Journal (starred review)
“[W]e know little about the day-to-day lives of female runaways, their families and their relationships with Northern whites. Sydney Nathans’s To Free a Family is a minor masterpiece that goes a long way toward filling this gap… Nathans is brilliant at reconstructing Mary Walker’s life and her relationship with Peter and Susan Lesley… Nathans creates a vibrant and subtle portrait of the Lesleys, enabling readers to decide for themselves how trusting…Walker’s relationship with them became. The result is a remarkable story of an extended biracial family that embarked on a 15-year effort to reunite Walker with her surviving children.”—John Stauffer, The Wall Street Journal
“Historian Blight examines how we handled the centennial [of the Civil War], which occurred at the infancy of the civil rights movement… History and great literature blend beautifully as Blight conducts his examination of the works of four writers—Robert Penn Warren, southern-born novelist; Bruce Catton, historian and journalist; Edmund Wilson, literary critic; and James Baldwin, northern-born essayist and race critic—providing…context for…their views of the centennial and all its commercialism and hypocrisy… Blight explores…the sense of American redemption that did not include any examination of the tragedies of racism and slavery.”—Vanessa Bush, Booklist (starred review)