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Other titles in the Alexis de Tocqueville Lectures on American Politics series:
The Abolitionist Imagination (Alexis de Tocqueville Lectures on American Politics)by Andrew Delbanco
Synopses & Reviews
The abolitionists of the mid-nineteenth century have long been painted in extremes--vilified as reckless zealots who provoked the catastrophic bloodletting of the Civil War, or praised as daring and courageous reformers who hastened the end of slavery. But Andrew Delbanco sees abolitionists in a different light, as the embodiment of a driving force in American history: the recurrent impulse of an adamant minority to rid the world of outrageous evil.
Delbanco imparts to the reader a sense of what it meant to be a thoughtful citizen in nineteenth-century America, appalled by slavery yet aware of the fragility of the republic and the high cost of radical action. In this light, we can better understand why the fiery vision of the "abolitionist imagination" alarmed such contemporary witnesses as Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne even as they sympathized with the cause. The story of the abolitionists thus becomes both a stirring tale of moral fervor and a cautionary tale of ideological certitude. And it raises the question of when the demand for purifying action is cogent and honorable, and when it is fanatic and irresponsible.
Delbanco's work is placed in conversation with responses from literary scholars and historians. These provocative essays bring the past into urgent dialogue with the present, dissecting the power and legacies of a determined movement to bring America's reality into conformity with American ideals.
"This book — actually essays by five authors — continues an argument about the abolitionists, and thus about idealism and extremism in general, that's raged since the 1840s. It's taken up by five well-known scholars, of whom Delbanco, the noted Columbia University American studies professor, takes the lead. His position, stoutly argued but not new, is that in their moral fervor the antislavery radicals of the pre — Civil War years both undermined slavery and threatened the republic by their ideological certitude and fanaticism. He keeps company with the likes of Hawthorne and Melville, who, as Delbanco relates, were appalled by slavery yet fearful of the dangers of the abolitionists' often disordered words and acts. In sharp responses, John Stauffer and Manisha Sinha make muscular cases for the abolitionists; Darryl Pinckney stresses the long absence of black abolitionists from the story; and Wilfred M. McClay applauds Delbanco for his balanced evaluation of the abolitionists. No one will miss the echoes in this argument of public debates raging today and no one can dismiss these essays as irrelevant or about 'mere history.' Nevertheless, while a fine book for the classroom and committed readers, it's more a specialist's work than one for casual consumption." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Abolitionists have been painted in extremes--vilified as reckless zealots who provoked the bloodletting of the Civil War, or praised as daring reformers who hastened the end of slavery. Delbanco sees them as the embodiment of a driving force in American history: the recurrent impulse of an adamant minority to rid the world of outrageous evil.
Andrew Delbanco is a 2011 National Humanities Medal Winner
About the Author
Andrew Delbanco is the Mendelson Family Chair of American Studies and Julian Clarence Levi Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University.John Stauffer is Chair of History of American Civilization and Professor of English and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, and the author of Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.Manisha Sinha is Associate Professor of History and Afro-American Studies at University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
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History and Social Science » African American Studies » Civil Rights Movement