The black hearts of men : radical abolitionists and the transformation of race /

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Main Author: Stauffer, John.
Format: Book
Published:Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2002.
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Review by Choice Review

Stauffer (Harvard Univ.) intertwines the antislavery activities of Frederick Douglass, James McCune Smith, John Brown, and Gerrit Smith. These four men, two African American and two white, were deeply religious reformers who first sought to utilize peaceful means to end slavery and promote racial integration in antebellum America. Failing to achieve these objectives, they adopted a militant position by organizing the Radical Abolition Party and endorsing violence, justifying their actions in the name of righteousness. Brown, as readers will recall, actually employed violence with disastrous results, first in Kansas and then at Harpers Ferry. Stauffer maintains that the impact of Brown's defeat at Harpers Ferry fractured the friendships among the four and dissolved their interracial cooperation. He also demonstrates how the equalitarian ideals of these men compelled them to champion other pre-Civil War reform movements, shedding new light on four men who were extremely important to the antebellum antislavery movement in the US. The book expands our knowledge of the changing nature of antislavery and antebellum reform as the nation approached the Civil War. Extensive notes complement the work. Highly recommended for all readers and collections. L. B. Gimelli emeritus, Eastern Michigan University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Two of the four "passionate outsiders" (which would have been a better title) presented here were black: Frederick Douglass and doctor-scholar James McCune Smith. Two were white: John Brown and philanthropist-reformer Gerrit Smith. Brought together at the inaugural convention of Radical Abolitionists in June of 1855, they formed an interracial alliance of a kind that would not be seen again until the civil rights movement. Harvard history professor Stauffer offers an account of these four lives joined for a historical moment by "their vision of a sacred, sin-free, and pluralist society, as well as by their willingness to use violence to effect it." Stauffer shows how the four worked together on temperance and feminist issues, party building and other political work along with their antislavery activities, exploring the practical and ideological glue that held them together. A splendidly illustrated excursion into the American fascination with daguerreotype shows the four using that form to further their public image, an image the 1859 raid on Harper's Ferry and its federal arsenal destroyed, along with all their careful bridge-building. Brown's Harper's Ferry raid was discussed beforehand by all the men, but the actual act dimmed the revolutionary fervor of all who remained (Brown was executed) and probably made for the first, albeit unofficial, casualties of the Civil War. While the author's plain style doesn't include much imagistic amplification of events, this book offers an intense look at the mechanics of freedom. (Feb. 7) Forecast: The Unites States' violent internal conflicts over its values, via raids such as Brown's, can probably be better imagined now than at any time over the past 50 years at least. This book will have its main audience via campus libraries and syllabi, but anyone thinking historically about the U.S. road to fuller civil liberty will find it fascinating. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A thoughtful work of history restores African-Americans to a central place in the abolitionist movement. Black thinkers and activists, writes Stauffer (History/Harvard Univ.), led the way in fighting for the emancipation of their fellows. Of them, only Frederick Douglass is well known today, a process of forgetting that began even as the Civil War was being waged; at a reunion of abolitionists held in 1874 in Chicago, few blacks (and few women) figured, which allowed participants to "characterize the abolition movement as a white man's movement." Stauffer examines the small group of friends and colleagues who gave the abolitionist movement its focus and voice, including the African-American physician James McCune Smith, whom a contemporary called "the most learned Negro of his day," and the white philanthropist Gerrit Smith, as well as the better-known Douglass and the revolutionist John Brown, "all of whom embraced an ethic of a black heart"-which is to say, all learned how to view the world as if they themselves were in chains. Stauffer charts their collective efforts to convert their compatriots to the abolitionist cause, which led, he writes, to both successes and failures; the effort to emancipate slaves led eventually to war, he observes, but also in a "century of horrible racism and racial oppression following the war [that] stemmed in part from the savage violence that brought slavery to an end." He also explores the troubled relations among the abolitionists, complicated by Gerrit Smith's abandonment of the cause after John Brown's assault on federal troops at Harpers Ferry and his eventual estrangement from blacks in general, and shows that the movement, like any other involving powerful personalities, was far from unified at most points in its history. A welcome addition to the historical literature.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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