The Slaveholding Republic: An Account of the United States Government's Relations to Slavery

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Overview

William Lloyd Garrison argued--and many leading historians have since agreed--that the Constitution of the United States was a proslavery document. Garrison called it "a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell." But in The Slaveholding Republic, one of America's most eminent historians, Don E. Fehrenbacher, argues against this claim, in a wide-ranging, landmark history that stretches from the Continental Congress to the Presidency of Abraham Lincoln.

Fehrenbacher ranges from sharp-eyed analyses of the deal-making behind the "proslavery clauses" of the constitution, to colorful accounts of partisan debates in Congress and heated confrontations with Great Britain (for instance, over slaves taken off American ships and freed in British ports). He shows us that the Constitution itself was more or less neutral on the issue of slavery and that, in the antebellum period, the idea that the Constitution protected slavery was hotly debated (many Northerners would concede only that slavery was protected by state law, not by federal law). Nevertheless, he also reveals that US policy--whether in foreign courts, on the high seas, in federal territories, or even in the District of Columbia--was consistently proslavery. The book concludes with a brilliant portrait of Lincoln. Fehrenbacher makes clear why Lincoln's election was such a shock to the South and shows how Lincoln's approach to emancipation, which seems exceedingly cautious by modern standards, quickly evolved into a "Republican revolution" that ended the anomaly of the United States as a "slaveholding republic."

The last and perhaps most important book by a Pulitzer-Prize winning historian, The Slaveholding Republic illuminates one of the most enduring issues in our nation's history.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Was the Constitution, one of our nation's most revered documents, designed to provide for the protection of slavery, the country's greatest disgrace? This study, begun by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Fehrenbacher (The Dred Scott Case), addresses this highly significant and controversial topic. Completed after Fehrenbacher's death by McAfee (history, California State Univ., San Bernardino), the work concludes that the Constitution's framers did not intend to protect slavery but that, from 1789 to 1861, the federal government most often acted to protect the institution. Moreover, when Lincoln was elected in 1861, slaveholding states, no longer sure of Constitutional guarantees, seceded from the Union. This final work by a distinguished authority on the Constitution, slavery, and Lincoln reviews federal debate, compromise, and foreign policy surrounding slavery from the early republic to the 1860s. It will be read by specialists and is recommended for larger academic libraries. Theresa McDevitt, Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
"The Slaveholding Republic not only advances our knowledge of the critical relationships of slavery to the American government, placing it in perspective and explaining its meaning, but it also helps frame contemporary debates over the perennial question about the relative power of the nation and the locality. One could hardly ask for more."—Ira Berlin, The Washington Post

"A fitting complement to Don Fehrenbacher's prize-winning book, The Dred Scott Case. With his hallmark of careful research and precise language, Fehrenbacher convincingly shows how domination of the federal government by slaveholding interests shaped a Constitution that was originally neutral toward slavery into a bulwark of the peculiar institution. The election of Lincoln in 1860 brought this domination to an end, causing the South to create a new slaveholding republic that plunged the nation in war."—James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom

"The portrait of Lincoln presented here is particularly interesting, effectively contradicting the revisionist view that he was, at best, a lukewarm opponent of slavery." —Jay Freeman, Booklist

"Engagingly written, thoughtfully conceived, and filled with flashes of insight. Here is a compelling contribution to the ongoing debate about the nation's ends and means, its better angels, and its fundamental law."—Phillip Shaw Paludan, author of "A People's Contest": The Union and the Civil War

"A major historian addresses a major theme in the late Don Fehrenbacher's The Slaveholding Republic. Rigorously based on the original sources, this book accurately and soberly relates the shameful story of how the federal government treated human beings as property."—Daniel Walker Howe, Rhodes Professor of American History, Oxford University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195141771
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 2/8/2001
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 5.70 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

The late Don E. Fehrenbacher died in 1997. He was the William Robertson Coe Professor of History and American Studies at Stanford University. His book The Dred Scott Case won the Pulitzer Prize in 1979, and he edited and completed David M. Potter's The Impending Crisis, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1977. He was awarded the Lincoln Prize for lifetime achievement in 1997. Ward M. McAfee is Professor of History at California State University, San Bernardino. One of Fehrenbacher's former students, he has published in a variety of fields, including the Civil War and Reconstruction, world religions, and California history. He lives in Upland, California.

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