The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race

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9780674013674: The Black Hearts of Men: Radical Abolitionists and the Transformation of Race
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At a time when slavery was spreading and the country was steeped in racism, two white men and two black men overcame social barriers and mistrust to form a unique alliance that sought nothing less than the end of all evil. Drawing on the largest extant bi-racial correspondence in the Civil War era, John Stauffer braids together these men's struggles to reconcile ideals of justice with the reality of slavery and oppression. Who could imagine that Gerrit Smith, one of the richest men in the country, would give away his wealth to the poor and ally himself with Frederick Douglass, an ex-slave? And why would James McCune Smith, the most educated black man in the country, link arms with John Brown, a bankrupt entrepreneur, along with the others? Distinguished by their interracial bonds, they shared a millennialist vision of a new world where everyone was free and equal.

As the nation headed toward armed conflict, these men waged their own war by establishing model interracial communities, forming a new political party, and embracing violence. Their revolutionary ethos bridged the divide between the sacred and the profane, black and white, masculine and feminine, and civilization and savagery that had long girded western culture. In so doing, it embraced a malleable and "black-hearted" self that was capable of violent revolt against a slaveholding nation, in order to usher in a kingdom of God on earth. In tracing the rise and fall of their prophetic vision and alliance, Stauffer reveals how radical reform helped propel the nation toward war even as it strove to vanquish slavery and preserve the peace.

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About the Author:

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.

Review:

More than an engaging history of antislavery, this volume, with its abundant use of primary sources, restores James McCune Smith and Gerrit Smith to their historical positions as preeminent radical abolitionists and pioneer fighters against racism. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries. (Charles L. Lumpkins Library Journal 2001-11-01)

Stauffer examines the small group of friends and colleagues who gave the abolitionist movement its focus and voice...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'...A welcome addition to the historical literature. (Kirkus Reviews 2001-11-15)

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...[Black Hearts of Men] offers an intense look at the mechanics of freedom. (Publishers Weekly 2001-11-12)

The Black Hearts of Men is a story of politics, religion, sin, guilt, passion, murder and expiation. It begins in innocence and good intentions and ends in bloodshed and madness...Stauffer knows what he has with this remarkable story. He deftly outlines the thinking of his subjects, and is especially good at showing the links between their religious beliefs and their politics. (Barry Gewen New York Times Book Review 2002-03-24)

Stauffer intertwines the antislavery activities of Frederick Douglas, James McCune Smith, John Brown, and Gerrit Smith. These four men...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 endorsing violence, justifying their actions in the name of righteousness...The book expands our knowledge of the changing nature of antislavery and antebellum reform as the nation approached the Civil War. (L. B. Gimelli Choice 2002-10-01)

The Black Hearts of Men is a richly interdisciplinary study, examining portraiture, literature, religion, intellectual biography, and the wider social and cultural context provided by antebellum America...Many avenues for further scholarship are suggested by this discussion...Stauffer does capture the potential for revolutionary change in the antebellum United States embodied in the radical abolitionists, and culminating in the state violence of the civil war. The work provides useful intellectual/political biographies of the key actors for the period of study, suggesting that their methods, motivations, and self-image were far from simple. (Fionnghuala Sweeney History)

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