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

RobertP

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From In These Times:

http://inthesetimes.com/article/21601/civil-war-trump-compromise-constitution-slavery-andrew-delbanco

The War Before the War offers a cautionary portrait of how accommodation can cause a great injustice to drag on for decades. Delbanco charts the many compromises the Founding Fathers made with Southern slaveholders for the sake of creating a United States—how the Constitution, which we think of as a morally enlightened guide to governance, was from the start a pact with the devil, a compromise that enabled atrocity.

Delbanco frames the Constitution as primarily a contract between slaveholding and nonslaveholding colonies. Twenty-five of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention were slaveholders, some attending the convention with a whole entourage of slaves. Pressured by slaveholders to preserve their slave economy, the Founders postponed any possible ban on the slave trade for 20 years. Then they created the Three-Fifths Compromise, which meant that the slaveholding South got extra political clout and dollars, just as rural prison towns do today by including prisoners in their census count.
Interesting article. My take, the Founders created a country that is the most desired destination by far to potential immigrants. According to Gallup 700 million people worldwide want to emigrate, 21% or nearly 150 million want to come to the United States. With that in mind why is it that some Americans spend so much energy telling other Americans how this country was birthed in evil and continues to be so?

https://news.gallup.com/poll/211883/number-potential-migrants-worldwide-tops-700-million.aspx
 

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Pat Young

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From Bloomberg, an inteview with the author:

https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2018-11-03/migrant-slaves-sanctuary-cities-and-the-coming-of-the-civil-war

From the interview:

In the end, the issue came down to the fundamental question of whether slaves were human beings or mobile property no different from a horse or cow. The very concept of slavery was based on the latter. No doubt some slave owners treated their slaves “well” — as defined by reasonable work hours, adequate diet, care during sickness and even a degree of mutual respect.

Yet the radical reduction of human beings to property could never be mitigated by personal decency. The fact that slaves kept running for freedom against high odds, at risk of severe punishment, and in many cases, in the face of unwelcoming Northerners (both white and black), disproved again and again the heinous lie that black people were less than human.

It’s always worthwhile to listen to Lincoln, who, with typical brevity, said, “people, of any color, seldom run unless there be something to run from.” Few people have ever voluntarily undertaken an arduous emigration unless some harsh condition drives them to it. The difference, of course, between illegal internal migration in the 19th century and illegal international migration in the 21st century is that slaves were fleeing within a nation where freedom of movement was a right guaranteed to everyone except them.
 

Pat Young

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From Louis Masur's review in The American Scholar:

As Andrew Delbanco shows in this wide-ranging, thought-provoking volume, slaves who sought to self-emancipate via escape transformed the law, politics, and culture of the United States in the decades between the Revolution and Civil War.
 

Pat Young

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From the LA Times:

It’s more frustrating than comforting to know that a US government in “gridlock” is nothing new. The founding and running of our nation has always been about compromise, a word that Delbanco points out, hasn’t always been so pejorative in nature (it’s derived from a Latin verb meaning “to make a mutual promise”). Perhaps if the word was less capitulatory in nature, lawmakers might feel led to do it more often. Still, the most compelling portions of this book are those describing the passage of five separate bills as part of the Compromise of 1850, ultimately resulting in the fugitive slave bill becoming law.
 

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From the NY Times review:

Despite its title, Andrew Delbanco’s “The War Before the War” isn’t so much about confrontation as it is about the earnest, and often self-defeating, methods used to avoid it.

In other words, this is a story about compromises — and a riveting, unsettling one at that. The subtitle gives advance warning of how all that bargaining ended up: “Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul From the Revolution to the Civil War.” Delbanco chose to focus his account on fugitive slaves because their plight, he says, “exposed the idea of the ‘united’ states as a lie.
 

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Part 6:

The recapture of fugitives was constantly in the faces of Northerners. Charles Dickens wrote that in 1841 during his tour of the United States the daily newspapers of the North were filled with ads from slave owners seeking the capture of African Americans who had escaped from them. Ads in a New York newspaper contained harrowing descriptions of the self-emancipated:

Ran away, a negro woman and two children. A few days before she went off, I burnt her with a hot iron, on the left side of her face. I tried to make the letter “M.”

Fifty dollars reward for the negro Jim Blake. Has a piece cut out of each ear, and the middle finger of the left hand cut off to the second joint.

Ran away, a negro named Arthur. Has a considerable scar across his breast and each arm, made by a knife; loves to talk much of the goodness of God.

Could a religious Northerner have read these descriptions of mutilated humanity written by the mutilators and not have it change his view of slave society in the South.
Slavery was around for 7500 years as a norm. The interesting thing is that it died as an institution in about 100.

The hard part is looking at it in the view of the times and places. Religious Southerners would not be affected. The great splits in churches were just getting started in 1840s and there would be many against change. I have read of pious matrons bragging about their profits in investing in illicit slave trading.
 

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...After the Civil War, Alexander Stephens, who had served as vice president of the Confederacy, wrote in his journal to much the same effect: “slavery was without doubt the occasion of secession"...
Aside from the precept of the book, just had to let this resonate once again. Sorry, carry on.
 
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byron ed

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Slavery was around for 7500 years as a norm. The interesting thing is that it died as an institution in about 100.
Chattel slavery; slavery as a condoned system, had died, at least in high Western societies.

But slavery not yet. It's even in the United States today. To an enslaved person the academic difference between a condoned system and a criminal system is beneath cognition, a cruel joke.

I wish I was exaggerating.
 
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John S. Carter

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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.
May I suggest a book?"Heirs of the Founders-The second Generation of American Giants" H.W. Brands=This era of the time between 1814-1850 has been overlooked but most important has been the story of the three political statesmen who reigned and dealt with the issue of the Constitution and slavery= Clay,Webster,and Calhoun.There is also the nullification act with Jackson and Calhoun which will become the successional movement of 1850.The bank will play a larger role than has been discussed on a Constitutional bases.After reading of Clay and Webster it is easy to understand where Lincoln learned of politics and Union.Enjoy
 

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Chattel slavery; slavery as a condoned system, had died, at least in high Western societies.

But slavery not yet, even in the United States. To an enslaved person the academic difference is beneath cognition.

I wish I was exaggerating.
There were slaves in England until about 1800.
 

Pat Young

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May I suggest a book?"Heirs of the Founders-The second Generation of American Giants" H.W. Brands=This era of the time between 1814-1850 has been overlooked but most important has been the story of the three political statesmen who reigned and dealt with the issue of the Constitution and slavery= Clay,Webster,and Calhoun.There is also the nullification act with Jackson and Calhoun which will become the successional movement of 1850.The bank will play a larger role than has been discussed on a Constitutional bases.After reading of Clay and Webster it is easy to understand where Lincoln learned of politics and Union.Enjoy
Thanks for the suggestion. Has anyone else read it?
 
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