In 1863, Union forces surrounded the city of Charleston. Their vice-like grip on the harbor would hold the city hostage for nearly two years, becoming the longest siege in the history of modern warfare. But for almost two centuries prior, a singular ideology forged among the headstrong citizens of Charleston had laid a different sort of siege to the entire American South--the...
In 1863, Union forces surrounded the city of Charleston. Their vice-like grip on the harbor would hold the city hostage for nearly two years, becoming the longest siege in the history of modern warfare. But for almost two centuries prior, a singular ideology forged among the headstrong citizens of Charleston had laid a different sort of siege to the entire American South--the promulgation of brutal, deplorable, and immensely profitable institution of slavery.
In America's Longest Siege, Joseph Kelly examines the nation's long struggle with its "peculiar institution" through the hotly contested debates in the city at the center of the slave trade. From the earliest slave rebellions to the Nullification crisis to the final, tragic act of secession that doomed both the city and the South as a whole, Kelly captures the toxic mix of nationalism, paternalism, and unprecedented wealth that made Charleston the focus of the nationwide debate over slavery. Kelly also explores the dissenters who tried--and ultimately failed--to stop the oncoming Civil War.
Exhaustingly researched and also compulsively readable, America's Longest Siege offers an insightful new take on the war and the culture that made it inevitable.
Charleston, S.C., attempts to come to grips with the institution of slavery until the Union swoops in to solve the debate for it. Kelly, a professor of literature at the College of Charleston, examines the great ideological dispute that underpinned the Civil War by focusing on one town’s long-running internal conflict regarding its moral distaste for and economic addiction to slave labor (Charleston was a major port for incoming slaves). Playing the Union’s two-year siege of the city’s harbor against what the author deems to be a far more disastrous siege—that of slavery on freedom—Kelly skillfully traces the development of the town’s views on slavery while simultaneously relating attempts to break down or bulwark the institution. During the Great Awakening, preachers condemned slavery as morally reprehensible; others promoted it as a paternal form of mastery over supposedly appreciative, childlike slaves. Andrew Jackson ranked his slaves between his children and his horses. During the Civil War, Charleston finally—and futilely—banked on the “‘positive good’ theory of slavery” and its Christianizing effects. This localized history successfully avoids the pitfalls of regionalism, and is a valuable and lucid addition to the Civil War literature. 16 pages of illus. Agent: Molly Lyons, Joelle Delbourgo Associates. (July)
Kelly (literature, Coll. of Charleston; Our Joyce) brings a literary sensibility to this vivid and engrossing study of slavery in and around one of its trading hubs, Charleston, SC, site of the first and longest Civil War siege and a hotbed of political, economic, religious, and moral debates about importing, owning, and trading slaves. The author explores the popular ideological arguments for and against slavery in the only American city (and state) in which black slaves outnumbered whites. Digging deeply into documentary evidence such as journals, letters, and printed public speeches to illuminate what both abolitionists and slave owners thought about using human capital to build wealth and maintain a power imbalance, Kelly frames the issue of slavery as a cultural battle within the South rather than of the South versus the North. Politically powerful pro-slavery "fire-eaters" such as John C. Calhoun and James Hammond claimed to use logic and reason in perpetuating the slave trade while painting abolitionists as dangerous idealists who failed to see that slavery was a "necessary evil" or even a "positive good." VERDICT Well written and finely detailed, Kelly's debut historical work is an important contribution to Southern antebellum history and is highly recommended to scholarly readers.—Douglas King, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia
A tenacious chronicle of the pernicious construction of South Carolina's slave-driven political orthodoxy. Kelly (Literature/Coll. of Charleston) thoroughly demonstrates how the "slaveocracy" of the state repeatedly swept away any elements of good conscience, from Charleston's founding in 1670 through Reconstruction, in favor of "unchecked greed" and the status quo. When rice became the colony's first cash crop, the use of slaves to do the "backbreaking, miserable, dangerous" labor of clearing the swamps that the white indentured servants would not do provided the first rationale for the importation of Africans. The wealth was held by a few very rich families on vast plantations, creating an entrenched, incestuous oligarchy. While the other American colonies were rallying around the idea that "all men were created equal," the handful of powerful Lowcountry dynasties was anxious to get back to the work of making a profit after the Revolution, resuming the suspended slave trade thanks to cotton production while institutionalizing the notion of "paternalism" to render their slave-owning more palatable. The Denmark Vesey Rebellion of 1822 "burned all liberal sentiment" from the hearts of South Carolina whites, Kelly eloquently writes, making room for arguments for "perpetual slavery" as a necessary evil (and even, as a civilizing force on Africans, a "positive good"), encouraging politicians like Charleston Mayor James Hamilton Jr. to expel free blacks and instigate police-state measures. As vice president under President Andrew Jackson, John C. Calhoun cast his deciding vote against the tariff of 1828, thus spearheading the nullification movement, which would strengthen the sense of states' rights and justification for secession. Kelly delineates the ideological straitening for a "lost generation" headed for war. An elucidating study by a Charleston historian who sees the shadow of nullification still looming.
Joseph Kelly is a professor of literature at the College of Charleston and a member of the American Studies Association. He is the author of Our Joyce and the editor of W. W. Norton's Seagull Readers series. His historical writing has appeared in the Journal of Social History and other publications. He lives in Charleston, South Carolina.