The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America's Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War

The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America's Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War

by Andrew Delbanco

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Overview

Winner of the Mark Lynton History Prize 

Winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award

New York Times Critics' Best Book of 2018

"Excellent... stunning."—Ta-Nehisi Coates

The devastating story of how fugitive slaves drove the nation to Civil War


For decades after its founding, America was really two nations--one slave, one free. There were many reasons why this composite nation ultimately broke apart, but the fact that enslaved black people repeatedly risked their lives to flee their masters in the South in search of freedom in the North proved that the "united" states was actually a lie. Fugitive slaves exposed the contradiction between the myth that slavery was a benign institution and the reality that a nation based on the principle of human equality was in fact a prison-house in which millions of Americans had no rights at all. By awakening northerners to the true nature of slavery, and by enraging southerners who demanded the return of their human "property," fugitive slaves forced the nation to confront the truth about itself.

By 1850, with America on the verge of collapse, Congress reached what it hoped was a solution-- the notorious Compromise of 1850, which required that fugitive slaves be returned to their masters. Like so many political compromises before and since, it was a deal by which white Americans tried to advance their interests at the expense of black Americans. Yet the Fugitive Slave Act, intended to preserve the Union, in fact set the nation on the path to civil war. It divided not only the American nation, but also the hearts and minds of Americans who struggled with the timeless problem of when to submit to an unjust law and when to resist.

The fugitive slave story illuminates what brought us to war with ourselves and the terrible legacies of slavery that are with us still.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781594204050
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/06/2018
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 80,436
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Andrew Delbanco is the Alexander Hamilton Professor of American Studies at Columbia University.  Author of many notable books, including College, Melville, The Death of Satan, Required Reading, The Real American Dream, and The Puritan Ordeal, he was recently appointed president of the Teagle Foundation, which supports liberal education for college students of all backgrounds.  Winner of the Great Teacher Award from the Society of Columbia Graduates, he is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. In 2001, Andrew Delbanco was named by Time as "America's Best Social Critic." In 2012, President Barack Obama presented him with the National Humanities Medal.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Part 1 The Long Fuse

1 The Problem 17

2 Slavery and the Founders 43

3 A Compromised Constitution 65

4 The First Test 85

5 Caught 107

6 War of Words 134

7 Into the Courts 164

Part 2 The Fuse Is Lit

8 To the Brink 189

9 State of the Union 220

10 The Last Truce 237

11 Explosion 262

12 Trials of Conscience 286

13 The End of Compromise 317

14 "And the War Came" 350

Acknowledgments 389

Illustrations 393

Notes 397

Index 443

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