Race and Revolution

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The most profound crisis of conscience for white Americans at the end of the eighteenth century became their most tragic failure. Race and Revolution is a trenchant study of the revolutionary generation's early efforts to right the apparent contradiction of slavery and of their ultimate compromises that not only left the institution intact but provided it with the protection of a vastly strengthened government after 1788. Reversing the conventional view that blames slavery on the South's social and economic structures, Nash stresses the role of the northern states in the failure to abolish slavery. It was northern racism and hypocrisy as much as southern intransigence that buttressed 'the peculiar institution.' Nash also shows how economic and cultural factors intertwined to result not in an apparently judicious decision of the new American nation but rather its most significant lost opportunity. Race and Revolution describes the free black community's response to this failure of the revolution's promise, its vigorous and articulate pleas for justice, and the community's successes in building its own African-American institutions within the hostile environment of early nineteenth-century America. Included with the text of Race and Revolution are nineteen rare and crucial documents—letters, pamphlets, sermons, and speeches—which provide evidence for Nash's controversial and persuasive claims. From the words of Anthony Benezet and Luther Martin to those of Absalom Jones and Caesar Sarter, readers may judge the historical record for themselves. 'In reality,' argues Nash, 'the American Revolution represents the largest slave uprising in our history.' Race and Revolution is the compelling story of that failed quest for the promise of freedom.

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Editorial Reviews

Clearly written . . . [Nash]'s coverage of the free black community's vigorous efforts to achieve justice in white supremacist society in the northern states is particularly illuminating.
Linda K. Kerber
Gary Nash has written a powerful, forthright, and revisionist interpretation of the founding generation and slavery which challenges much received wisdom. I find it thoroughly convincing.
Leon F. Litwack
The best history makes a difference in how we think about and feel the past. Race and Revolution is an important, tough-minded, provocative group of essays that contributes to our understanding of the most debilitating virus in the American system. Not only has Gary Nash illuminated the critical challenge of race and slavery in the revolutionary era and 'the most tragic failure' of American leaders, but he has brought to the forefront the long ignored role of black revolutionists in the early struggles for freedom.
Larry E. Tise
Race and Revolution is a bold and stirring documentation of the collapse of the devotion for liberty in America in the immediate wake of the American Revolution. While his interpretations will startle some, Gary Nash correctly finds that the demise of efforts to abolish slavery and incorporate blacks in American society proceeded directly from an increasingly conservative, white supremacist North, not a self-serving South. Finally, historians may be taking off the blinders that have perpetually obscured our ability to understand slavery and race as national, not regional problems.
R.J.M. Blackett
Race and Revolution should become standard reading in graduate and undergraduate seminars. It is broadly conceived and engages the major historiographical issues in such a way as to suggest new avenues of investigation.
Journal of the Early Republic
A powerful book . . . a tightly argued and vigorous reassessment of the revolutionary generation's failure to eliminate slavery.
Clearly written . . . [Nash]'s coverage of the free black community's vigorous efforts to achieve justice in white supremacist society in the northern states is particularly illuminating.
Library Journal
Social historian Nash ( Forging Freedom , LJ 5/1/88) presents three essays and supporting annotated documents dealing with the neglected topic of slavery during the Revolutionary era. He argues convincingly that most Revolutionary leaders understood the incompatibility of slavery with their equalitarian ideology. Unlike past historians, Nash especially blames Northern leaders, who were unwilling to compensate Southern slaveholders or to accept a biracial America, for the persistence of slavery at a time when it most easily could have been abolished. He contends that free blacks adapted to Northern discrimination by creating alternative organizations, especially black churches, which safeguarded an African-American identity and maintained abolitionist fervor. Relying upon recent scholarship, the author provides an insightful, well-written investigation which will appeal to scholars and the general public.-- David Szatmary, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780945612117
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/28/1990
  • Series: Merrill Jensen Lectures in Constitutiona Series
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

Gary B. Nash is the author of a variety of books on race and class in early America, including: Freedom By Degrees: Emancipation in Pennsylvania and Its Aftermath with Jean Soderlund (Oxford, 1991); Forging Freedom: The Black Urban Experience in Philadelphia, 1720-1820 (Harvard, 1988); Race, Class and Politics: Essays on Colonial and Revolutionary Society (Univ. of Illinois, 1985); The Urban Crucible: Social Change, Political Consciousness, and the Origins of the American Revolution (Harvard, 1979); Red, White, and Black: The Peoples of Early America (Prentice-Hall, 1974, 1982); Class and Society in Early America (Prentice-Hall, 1970); and Quakers and Politics: Pennsylvania, 1681-1726 (Princeton, 1968). He is a general editor of The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society (Harper and Row, 1986, 1990). In addition to teaching history at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he received a UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award, Professor Nash is the associate director of the National Center for History in the Schools. He holds his B.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton University.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1 The Revolutionary Generation Embraces Abolitionism Chapter 2 The Failure of Abolitionism Chapter 3 Black Americans in a White Republic Chapter 4 Documents for Chapter One Chapter 5 Documents for Chapter Two Chapter 6 Documents for Chapter Three

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