Cover: A Hideous Monster of the Mind: American Race Theory in the Early Republic, from Harvard University PressCover: A Hideous Monster of the Mind in HARDCOVER

A Hideous Monster of the Mind

American Race Theory in the Early Republic

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$41.00 • £35.95 • €37.95

ISBN 9780674009462

Publication Date: 02/21/2003


334 pages


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An unusually intelligent and level-headed book that makes several important contributions--recontextualizing Jefferson’s thought, familiarizing us with important black authors who have been largely forgotten, reestablishing the European intellectual background to American racial theory, and fearlessly demonstrating the hopeless intellectual confusion ’race’ caused for Samuel Stanhope, Hosea Easton, and Josiah Nott. Dain is repeatedly and delightfully insightful.—James Oakes, City University of New York

The book’s many virtues include a fresh angle on scientific racialism--one which presents an important engagement of minds across the color line, and which nicely sets the development of the concept of "race" within the broad context of natural history debates. The book likewise provides some fine distillations of major scientific treatises; and the narrative attention to individuals, not just ideas, is effective--here is a vivid gallery of characters. All of this is carried out in a clean and often charmingly ironic prose.—Matthew Frye Jacobson, Yale University

From the outset, American thinkers have grappled with the problematic nature of race. Dain...provides a welcome synthesis and critique of writings from the mid-18th to the mid-19th century...Dain ably limns multiple influences on race theory, including pro-and anti-slavery movements and foundational but evolving scientific, religious, and societal beliefs. He does not shy from expressing his viewpoints about the intellectual honesty or rigor of his various subjects, but he attempts to be neutral on the issue of race itself within the historical context...This scholarly review of white and black thinkers is a notable contribution to American race studies.—Janet Ingraham, Library Journal

Are racial differences the result of disparities in environment and social position or innate biological variations? This question loomed large in early America, and this fascinating work of intellectual history revisits the race debates in the years between the Revolution and the Civil War...Dain explores shifting conceptions of race in the writings of public intellectuals from Jefferson to Frederick Douglass...Dain’s broad research, nuanced analyses and skillful writing make this an indispensable introduction to early attitudes about race.Publishers Weekly

In this intellectual history, Bruce Dain…offers a striking approach to American race theory. Rejecting approaches that focus solely on a white or black perspective, he uses an "integrated" methodology that analyzes what white and black American intellectuals thought, wrote, and said about race theory between the American Revolution and Civil War as a coherent whole. To develop this method, Dain organizes a vast array of treatises essays, pamphlets, speeches and other ruminations into eight densely packed chapters…What emerges from this study is a theoretical discussion that was biological, anthropological, theological, and, always, political…This integrated approach makes it possible to discern what purports to be scientific and what is actually ideological in early American race theory…This is an informative and innovative history about race theory, a persistent and pernicious theme in American history.—Lester P. Lee, Jr., History

A Hideous Monster of the Mind is a closely argued, nuanced, and sophisticated study of the intellectual history of the construction of race in the United States from the Revolution to the Civil War. Bruce Dain positions this fine study in multiple contexts...In what is the most significant contribution of an important book on race, Dain integrates black theorists and writers such as Phyllis Wheatley, Prince Saunders, David Walker, Hosea Easton, and James McCune Smith into his description of "black people’s own sense of blackness"...A Hideous Monster of the Mind is an intricately structured, multidimensional, and revelatory exploration of the manifold, conflicted, conflicting, and everevolving meanings of race and citizenship in the antebellum United States. Bruce Dain has read widely, he handles his evidence deftly and with a subtlety that issues in a narrative that is at once rich in texture and powerful in its exegesis. —Micheal Morrison, Civil War History

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