Freedom in a Slave Society: Stories from the Antebellum South (Cambridge Studies on the American South)

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9781107013377: Freedom in a Slave Society: Stories from the Antebellum South (Cambridge Studies on the American South)

Before the Civil War, most Southern white people were as strongly committed to freedom for their kind as to slavery for African Americans. This study views that tragic reality through the lens of eight authors - representatives of a South that seemed, to them, destined for greatness but was, we know, on the brink of destruction. Exceptionally able and ambitious, these men and women won repute among the educated middle classes in the Southwest, South, and the nation, even amid sectional tensions. Although they sometimes described liberty in the abstract, more often these authors discussed its practical significance: what it meant for people to make life's important choices freely and to be responsible for the results. They publically insisted that freedom caused progress, but hidden doubts clouded this optimistic vision. Ultimately, their association with the oppression of slavery dimmed their hopes for human improvement, and fear distorted their responses to the sectional crisis.

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Book Description:

This book explores the relationship between freedom and slavery in the antebellum American South, studying authors who spoke for the Southwest's educated classes but often reached national readerships. Instead of treating freedom as an abstraction, this book analyzes the practical meanings attached to liberty by people who treasured it, even as they defended slavery. Juxtaposing what these Southerners wrote for a burgeoning print market with how they lived, in private and in public, this study sheds new light on the ethical paradox that plunged the United States into war.

About the Author:

Johanna Nicol Shields holds a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Alabama. She taught at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) between 1967 and 2007 and is the founding director of the UAH Humanities Center. She has won numerous awards for teaching and research, including UAH's Alumni Association Distinguished Faculty Award. Shields has held research awards from the American Association of University Women and National Endowment for the Humanities. Her work has been published in the Journal of the Early Republic, the Journal of Southern History, Southern Cultures, Alabama Review and Mississippi Quarterly. She is the author of The Line of Duty: Maverick Congressmen and the Development of American Political Culture, 1836-1860 (1985), which won the Ralph Gabriel Prize awarded by the American Studies Association and Greenwood Press.

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