Lincoln, the North, and the Question of Emancipation

It was only midway through the war that Lincoln reached the conclusion that abolishing slavery would preserve the nation. Introduction For generations, Abraham Lincoln has been known as “the Great Emancipator.” His Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863 effectively declared that, if the North won the Civil War, the American institution of slavery would come to[…]

Sculptor Hiram Powers and His Representation of Slavery in Ancient Greece

His work catapulted Powers to international fame in the 19th century. Introduction They say Ideal beauty cannot enter The house of anguish. On the threshold stands An alien Image with enshackled hands, Called the Greek Slave! as if the artist meant her (That passionless perfection which he lent her, Shadowed not darkened where the sill[…]

The Free Soil Party, 1848-1854

More successful than most third parties, it had two senators and fourteen representatives sent to the thirty-first Congress. Introduction The Free Soil Party was a short-lived political party in the United States which was active in the 1848 and 1852 presidential elections, and in some state elections. It formed as a breakaway faction of the[…]

Bleeding Kansas: Free-Staters and Border Ruffians Fight over Slavery and Annexation

The events in Bleeding Kansas directly foreshadowed the American Civil War. Introduction Bleeding Kansas, sometimes referred to in history as Bloody Kansas or the Border War, was a sequence of violent events involving anti-slavery (“free-staters”) and pro-slavery “border ruffians” elements that took place in Kansas–Nebraska Territory and the western frontier towns of the U.S. state[…]

The Agitator: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolitionists

Garrison considered himself a pacifist, a believer in the power of truth to undo the wickedness of slavery without recourse to bloodshed. By James Williford On July 4, 1854, William Lloyd Garrison set fire to a copy of the U.S. Constitution. “A covenant with death,” he called it, “and an agreement with hell.” Holding the[…]

Music as Slave Rebellion: The Power of Song in a Strange Land

Spirituals were created out of the experience of enslaved people in the U.S. They were songs of an abiding belief in the victory of good over evil. Introduction From the moment of capture, through the treacherous middle passage, after the final sale and throughout life in North America, the experience of enslaved Africans who first[…]

Carpetbaggers and Scalawags: Reconstruction after the Civil War

Introduction Reconstruction is the name of the historical period following the American Civil War during which the U.S. government attempted to resolve the divisions of the war, rebuild the southern economy, and integrate former slaves into the political and social life of the country. With the end of the war and the collapse of the[…]

The American Civil War, from Fort Sumter to Palmito Ranch

The Constitutional Convention of 1789, following the Revolution, had failed to address slavery, and it took another war to step forward. Introduction The watershed event of United States history was the American Civil War (1861–1865), fought in North America within the territory of the United States of America, between 24 mostly northern states of the[…]

Slave Rebels and Resistance in the Early Modern Revolutionary Caribbean

The history of slave rebels and resistance in the Caribbean is a rich and complicated story. Marissa: On August 30, 1789, hundreds of enslaved people gathered along the waterfront in St. Pierre, Martinique. They had just received news that the King of France had abolished slavery but their masters denied that any declaration took place.[…]

What a Line Deleted from the Declaration of Independence Teaches Us about Thomas Jefferson

The excised passage was not then without effect and ought not now to be without effect. In his first draft of Declaration of Independence, Jefferson listed a “long train of abuses & usurpations,” at the hand of King George III. Those, he added, are “begun at a distinguished period, & pursuing invariably the same object.” Those[…]

New Year’s Eve, 1864: Prayers, Glittering Parties, and the Sudden Taste of Freedom

The Emancipation Proclamation Inspired New Year’s celebrations that endure to this day. For young Ed McCree, enslaved on a thousand-acre Georgia cotton plantation, Christmas and New Year’s Day 150 years ago were like no other he had ever known. This child and the other men and women in bondage had always cherished Christmas. There was[…]

Karl Follen: An Abolitionist and the Christmas Tree in 1835

Sadly, Follen’s Christmas tree has gone largely forgotten. Karl Follen came to America from Germany in 1825 as political refugee. As a young law professor he had written that people are justified in rising up against despotic regimes. Lafayette, returning for the fiftieth anniversary of the American Revolution, assisted with introductions.  Soon Follen was again[…]

Sugar, Tobacco, and Slavery in the 18th and 19th Centuries

The most lucrative cash crops to emerge from the Americas in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were sugar, tobacco, and rice. Introduction The conditions required for cultivating different cash crops largely shaped regional labor experiences and population demographics for enslaved Africans in the New World. European settlers experimented with a range of crops and export[…]

Congress and the Remaking of the South, 1865-1866

Andrew Johnson lacked Lincoln’s political skills and instead exhibited a stubbornness and confrontational approach. Introduction President Johnson and Congress’s views on Reconstruction grew even further apart as Johnson’s presidency progressed. Congress repeatedly pushed for greater rights for freed people and a far more thorough reconstruction of the South, while Johnson pushed for leniency and a[…]

The Native Americans Who Assisted the Underground Railroad

Native American assistance to freedom seekers crossing through the Midwest has largely been erased from Underground Railroad studies. In an interview conducted in 2002, the late Helen Hornbeck Tanner, an influential historian of the Native American experience in the Midwest best known for her magisterial Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History (1987), reflected on the considerable record[…]

The Kikotan Massacre and the Arrival of the First African Slaves in 1619

Two factors overlapped to result in the genocide of the Kikotan people. Reckoning with the past is never easy. We’ve seen this in the United States and the United Kingdom this summer, as British universities grapple with their connections to the wealth and human suffering resulting from transatlantic enslavement, and Americans debate the historical meaning of the 400th anniversary of[…]

St. Augustine’s Slave Market: A Visual History

Placing special emphasis on visual culture in the forms of photographs and postcards, Goldstein unpacks the complicated history of St. Augustine’s Slave Market. Introduction At the center of the historic quarter in St. Augustine, Florida, stands the “old slave market,” an open-air pavilion where enslaved Africans were bought and sold (Figures 1–3). Since its construction[…]

Listening to the Past: An African-American Lullaby

Both during slavery and after, the power structures of American society confined many black women to the role of caretakers of white families. My research tries to capture the sounds of the past before the advent of recorded music. I’m curious about ideas that were spoken and sung and shouted and strummed, focusing particularly on[…]

Abolition and Emancipation Were Not the Same Thing

After the Civil War, Rose Herera wanted more than freedom – she wanted justice. Early in 1865, in the city of New Orleans, a newly freed woman named Rose Herera made a startling allegation. She told a local judge that her former owner’s wife, Mary De Hart, had abducted three of her children and was[…]

Abolition and European Imperialism in East Africa, 1845-1893

What were the links between abolition and imperialism in East Africa? Introduction The islands of Zanzibar and Pemba off the East coast of Africa have long been part of a cosmopolitan Indian Ocean trading world. On these tropical islands, as well as the nearby coast, the ancient African civilization of the Swahili grew wealthy on[…]

Slavery and the Origins of the Lost Cause Myth

States’ rights and slavery, while theoretically distinct, were in praxis intertwined. Here’s what a Jeffersonian analysis of Jubal Early’s lost-cause apologia can teach us. The two most significant issues that led to war between the North and South were, most scholars acknowledge, slavery and states’ rights. Northern states had fully abolished slavery by 1804, when[…]

Slavery, Civil War, and the “New Birth of Freedom”

To twenty-first-century Americans, the case against slavery may appear self-evident. However, nineteenth-century opponents of slavery faced a quite different social consensus on the issue. Introduction To twenty-first-century Americans, the case against slavery may appear self-evident. Most of us have no doubt about the profound injustice of a system in which some people are the property[…]

African Art and the Effects of European Contact and Colonization

African cultures never existed in isolation—there was always movement, trade, and the exchange of ideas. Introduction Early encounters with Europeans were often recorded in African art. Look closely at the top of the mask above (and detail, left). Do you see faces? These represent Portuguese explorers with beards and hats (flanked by mudfish) who visited[…]

The Remarkable History of the Union League Club

There were moments in our history where both African-American freedom and Mexico’s independence were addressed in a positive way. By Dr. Michael HoganHistorian and Author Today, as we observe the dismay of Princeton students at their university’s legacy of slavery, and the Trump administration’s increasingly hostile attitude toward Mexico, it is important to recognize that[…]

Did the End of the Civil War Mean the End of Slavery?

April 1865 marked the beginning of a new battle for American abolitionists. On the same morning that Abraham Lincoln died from an assassin’s bullet, noted abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was quietly gloating by the Charleston, South Carolina graveside of John C. Calhoun. Garrison, approaching his 60th birthday, had traveled down to secession’s birthplace with a[…]