The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America's Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War by Andrew Delbanco

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Pat Young

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The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America's Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War by Andrew Delbanco published by Penguin (2018) 463 pages $30.00 Hardcover $14.99 Kindle.

While White Americans often boasted of their "United States" during the early years of the Republic, African Americans knew that the country's largest minority dissented from any claims of unity. Blacks knew that by fleeing from the Slave South to the Free North, they were entering a different county. As they entered the North in increasing numbers throughout the 1840s and 1850s, they exposed as a lie the claim that slavery was a benign institution. Columbia University American Studies Professor Andrew Delbanco offers a detailed history of the development of the fugitive slave crisis, the ways Congress tried to address it by increasing Federal intervention in the states, and the impact of the growing interference with local freedoms in the name of preserving slavery.

When slaves ran away, they brought the realities of slave life to the Northern communities through which they traveled. Delbanco writes that "Fugitives from slavery ripped open the screen behind which America tried to conceal the reality of life for black Americans, most of whom lived in the South, out of sight and out of mind for most people in the North." While their numbers were small relative to the total number of enslaved blacks, their impact was enormous.

Note: Because of its length, this review will be posted in installments.
 
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