Slavery

The Emancipation Proclamation opened the door for Pennsylvania's African-American soldiers

The scene was wild and grand. Read more >>

The highly lucrative cotton crop of 1860 emboldened the South to challenge the economic powerhouse of the North

In the mid- to late summer of 1860, billions of soft pink and white Gossypium hirsutum blooms broke out across South Carolina, Georgia, western Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, soon to morph into puffy white bolls. Read more >>

South Carolina severed ties with the Union not out of concern for states' rights but because of slavery

At 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 20, 1860, some 170 men marched through the streets of Charleston, South Carolina, walking from St. Andrews Hall to a new meetinghouse amid the cheers of onlookers. Half of them were more than 50 years old, most well-known. Read more >>

Having given slavery a new lease on life, he then made Northern triumph inevitable

Fistfights broke out in Congress in 1850 over whether the territories just won in the Mexican War should be slave or free—and only a last-minute series of compromises prevented catastrophe

On a raw evening in winter of 1850, a weary-looking, feeble, and desperately ill old man arrived unannounced at the Washington, D.C. residence of Sen. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts. Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky had come to seek Webster’s help in his battle to save the Union. Read more >>

Over the question of whether Missouri should be admitted to the Union as a free or slave state in 1820, creative moderates brokered an ingenious compromise that averted civil war

On February 13, 1819, 35-year-old Congressman William Cobb unfolded his six-foot frame from his chair in the chamber of the Old Brick Capitol building in Washington, D.C., and locked his gray eyes on James Tallmadge Jr. of New York. There was little love lost between the grandson of Georgia’s most famous patriarch and the accomplished city lawyer. They had tangled on issues before, Cobb eloquently if savagely attacking Andrew Jackson over his campaign in Florida against the Seminoles; Tallmadge had defended the general with equal vigor. Read more >>

At five critical junctures in American history, major political compromises have proved that little of lasting consequence can occur without entrenched sides each making serious concessions

Without the material support of a half-dozen prominent northerners known as the Secret Six, John Brown’s attack on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry 150 years ago may well never have occurred

ON OCTOBER 17, 1909, a small group of former abolitionists quietly gathered in an imposing brick house in Concord, Massachusetts, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of John Brown’s historic raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, then a part of Virginia. Read more >>
50 Years Ago Read more >>

Slavery Televised

“Slavery was no sideshow in American history,” says Dr. James Oliver Horton about the PBS series Slavery and the Making of America, which aired as this issue went to press and is now available on DVD. “It was the main event.” Read more >>

It was the nation’s biggest business, it was well organized as a Detroit assembly line, and it was here to stay. It was slavery. David Brion Davis, A lifelong student of the institution, tells how he discovered—and then set about teaching—its vast significance.

The assignment—to select 10 books suitable for a lay reader that cover American history between the Constitution and the 1850s—sounds easier than it is. Read more >>

Should our leaders say they’re sorry about slavery? About Indians? About their personal behavior? Such questions are hardly new; public contrition has been a national preoccupation for centuries.

Before President Clinton went to Africa in March of this year, his press secretary, Mike McCurry, made a double announcement. The President would discuss American slavery while visiting the continent from which America’s slaves had come. But he would not apologize for it. Read more >>

THE VISITORS WHO COME HERE FOR THE OLYMPICS this summer won’t find Tara. What they will find is a city facing an unusual—and sometimes painful—past with clarity of vision and generosity of spirit.

BORN IN SLAVERY AND RAISED IN ITS PAINFUL AFTERMATH TO BECOME ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL AMERICAN ICONS, SHE HAS BEEN MADE TO ENCOMPASS LOVE AND GUILT AND RIDICULE AND WORSHIP —AND STILL SHE LIVES ON

On Highway 61, just outside of Natchez, Mississippi, stands Mammy’s Cupboard, a thirty-foot-high concrete figure of a black woman. Read more >>

The struggles and torments of a forgotten class in antebellum America: black slaveowners

In the 1640s John Casor was brought from Africa to America, where he toiled as a servant for a Virginia landowner. Read more >>

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the most controversial historical novel in memory, the author of The Confessions of Nat Turner speaks of a novelist’s duty to history and fiction’s strange power not only to astonish but to enrage

Twenty-five years ago this November, I found myself in Ohio, where I was being awarded an honorary degree at Wilberforce University. Read more >>

Deep South states are taking the lead in promoting landmarks of a three-hundred-year heritage of oppression and triumph—and they’re drawing visitors from around the world

Kate is waiting for us by the kitchen garden. Her owner, Benjamin Powell, has warned us that she “often has a case of the grumps,” so we approach her cautiously. Read more >>

While the Revolution was still being fought, Mum Bett declared that the new nation’s principle of liberty must extend to her too. It took eighty years and a far more terrible war to confirm the rights she demanded.

Early during the year 1781, having heard a lot of talk about the “rights of man,” a black slave woman named Mum Bett walked out of her master’s house in western Massachusetts to tell a lawyer that she wanted to sue for her freedom. Read more >>

More than the Revolution, more than the Constitutional Convention, it was the crucial test of the American nation. The author of Battle Cry of Freedom, the most successful recent book on the subject, explains why the issues that fired the Civil War are as urgent in 1990 as they were in 1861.

McPherson’s Basic Reading List     Read more >>

Thousands of them sided with Great Britain, only to become the wandering children of the American Revolution

IN THE EARLY summer of 1775 the rebeb of Virginia evicted their royalist governor, John Murray, Earl of Dunmore, from his capital at Williamsburg and drove him to refuge aboard a British warship. Read more >>

How the mistress of the plantation became a slave

“WE’RE USED to living around ‘em. You Northerners aren’t. You don’t know anything about ‘em.” This is or was the allpurpose utterance of white Southerners about blacks. Read more >>

PRESIDENT LINCOLN MOVES AT LAST
Influence of “Advanced Republicans” Seen as Crucial to the Outcome
THE UNION UNITED STILL
THE PRESIDENT’S TACT & COURAGE
HE WAITED ON THE PROPER HOUR
JUBILATION AMONG THE BLACKS
They Stand Ready to Defend With Arms the Rights Thus Gained
NEW LIGHT SHED ON THE PARTICULARS OF THE GREAT DRAMA

When the cold, fastidious Mississippian rose to speak, a hush fell over the crowded Senate chamber. It was January 21, 1861, and Jefferson Davis and four other senators from the Deep South were here this day to announce their resignations. Read more >>

THE BLACK SLAVE DRIVER

Wise planters of the ante-bellum South never relaxed their search for talent among their slaves. The ambitious, intelligent, and proficient were winnowed out and recruited for positions of trust and responsibility. Read more >>

While some American captives languished, others conducted a flourishing market—and a huge black sailor organized everything

Stark, mist-enshrouded Dartmoor prison has long held a fascination for those interested in British crime. Read more >>

Was there really a conspiracy to burn the town?

In January, 1708, a Mr. William Hallett, Jr., of Newton, Long Island, was murdered in his sleep with his pregnant wife and his five children. Two of Hallett’s slaves, an Indian man and a Negro woman, were tried for the crime and found guilty. Read more >>

Sure that he was divinely appointed, Nat Turner led fellow slaves in a bloody attempt to overthrow their masters

Until August, 1831, most Americans had never heard of Virginia’s Southampton County, an isolated, impoverished neighborhood located along the border in the southeastern part of the state. Read more >>

Harriet Beecher Stowe, an extraordinary member of an extraordinary family, always claimed that God wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin

She had been brought up to make herself useful. And always it suited her. Read more >>